According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the words 'populism' and 'populist' first came into use in the late nineteenth century United States, as a description of the politics of the People's Party.[i] This initial phase of the term's use is one of the few times in its history when it has not been an empty or floating signifier, a term coined by Claude Levi-Strauss in 1950[ii]. In simple terms, this refers to a word, phrase or symbol which contains no intrinsic meaning, but to which a range of meanings may be attributed by different speakers.[iii]
[i] Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (2002) Oxford University Press, 2286
[ii] Lévi-Strauss, Claude (1987) Introduction to Marcel Mauss, London: Routledge, 63-64.
[iii] Chandler, Daniel(2017) Semiotics for Beginners available in full at http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/S4B/sem02a.html
"'Populism': an empty signifier used to discredit the movement for social change,"
The Journal of International Relations, Peace Studies, and Development: Vol. 5
, Article 4.
Available at: https://scholarworks.arcadia.edu/agsjournal/vol5/iss1/4