Votes and elections

With the UK general election coming up tomorrow, I thought I’d look at the origins of a few election-related words.

Vote comes from the Latin votum (a vow, wish, promise, dedication), which can be traced back to the PIE root *ewegwh- (to speak solemnly, vow). It first appeared in writing during the 15th century.

Election, which dates from the late 13th century, comes via the Anglo-Norman eleccioun (choice, between legal alternatives), from the Latin electionem, which is derived from eligere (to pick out, select).

Hustings comes from the Old Norse húsþing (council) from hus (house) plus þing (assembly). Hustings was first used to mean “a temporary platform for political speeches” during the early 18th century, and its meaning later expanded to include the whole election process.

The Alþingi or Althing is Iceland’s parliament and comes from the Old Norse al (all) plus þing. The name of the Isle of Man’s parliament, the Tynwald, comes from the Old Norse Þingvellir (assembly fields).

Parliament comes from the Old French parlement, which originally meant “speaking, talk,” from parler (to speak). The origins of parler can be traced back to the Late Latin parabolare (to speak (in parables)), from parabola (speech, discourse).

[update 06.05.10]

Candidate comes from the Latin candidatus (one aspiring to office), which originally meant “white-robed”, and is the past participle of candidare (to make white or bright). Office-seekers in ancient Rome traditionally wore white togas to symbolise their purity and worthiness for office. Every day togas were off-white or tan coloured.

The origins of candidare can be traced back to the PIE root *kand- (to glow, to shine) via the Latin candidum (white; pure; sincere, honest, upright) from candere (to shine). Other words that come from the same root include candle, candid, incandescent and incense.

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This entry was posted in English, Etymology, Greek, Language, Latin.

7 Responses to Votes and elections

  1. Christopher Miller says:

    A couple of interesting related etymologies in English and French:

    Mementos placed in churches or shrines in thanks for a favour or wish the donor believes was granted in response to prayers are called ex votos, also known as votive offerings, the etymological root again being votum.

    In French, the verb is ‘voter’, cognate with English, but the noun is ‘voix’ as in ‘le candidat libéral a reçu la pluralité des voix’ (the Liberal candidate received a plurality of votes).

    And in French, there is a pun on ‘parlement': ‘parle-ment’, i.e. talk-(and-)lie. Cynical, but it was there in the word, just begging to be exploited.

  2. Dennis King says:

    You might add “candidate”, which has an interesting back-story involving the bright white robes worn by Romans seeking elected office, supposedly so that they would stand out in the Forum. With added an additional suggestion of purity, perhaps? Just joking.

  3. Lau says:

    Isn’t the Old Norse word þing and not ðing?

  4. Petréa Mitchell says:

    #1 reminds me of a story I saw during the 2000 US election: a TV station(?) in had started a game related to the election called Gorbushka, which was a pun on the major candidates’ names (this was the Gore vs. Bush one) and allegedly a Russian word for “bread”.

  5. Simon says:

    Lau – you’re right – it is þing and not ðing.

  6. Chris Miller says:

    About “white” in the etymology of ‘candidate': this sense survives in modern Occitan ‘cande’ along the more common Germanic-derived ‘blanc’.

    Another with ineresting connections to elections in Roman times is ‘ambitious’, which apparently originates from a term meaning ‘go about’, i.e. ‘do the rounds’.

  7. Great list. There is also “victory” (from “victoria”).