Cronyism comes from crony, a bit of 17th-century Cambridge student slang whose oldest meaning is “a close friend or companion of long standing.” Crony may have come from Greek chronios (long-lasting), which in turn comes from chronos (time).
When cronyism came along, in the mid-19th century, it had the innocuous meaning of “friendship” or “the ability or desire to make friends.” It wasn’t until around 1950 that it acquired a new, sinister, and chiefly American sense of “the appointment of friends to important positions, regardless of ability.” The oldest usage in the New York Times is in a March 13, 1952, editorial about “the graft-cronyism of the Truman Administration.”
Cronyism has been in the news during the last couple of months, often in connection with the incoming Trump administration.
The Nation, December 9, 2016
Being outraged is exhausting. But the alternative is accepting bigotry, intolerance, & cronyism as the new normal. That's not my country.— Celeste Ng (@pronounced_ing) December 20, 2016
New York Times opinion columnist Paul Krugman wrote in late November that the Trump infrastructure plan opens up “huge opportunities for cronyism and profiteering.” And The Federalist’s Robert Tracinski has labeled “the three pillars” of Trump’s approach “populism,” “nationalism,” and “cronyism (the president’s personal role in negotiating deals and deciding which businesses are in or out of favor).”
FFS I've studied Uzbekistan for over a decade and their corruption and cronyism is not as obvious as this. Trump's letting it all hang out.— Sarah Kendzior (@sarahkendzior) December 22, 2016
Cronyism is sometimes called crony capitalism, a term that was first applied to countries involved in the 1997 Asian financial crisis. In the U.S. crony capitalism was revived by former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who began using it around 2011 to describe “the collusion of big government and big business and big finance to the detriment of all the rest – to the little guys.” Lately, Palin has accused Donald Trump of crony capitalism, citing the tax-break deal he negotiated with the Indiana-based Carrier Corporation.
Crony has no relation to crone (“a withered old woman”), which comes from Anglo-French carogne. The literal translation of that word is carrion (corpse, dead meat).