Election Day Word Origins

The word campaign had several other meanings prior to its political sense. It first meant "a tract of open land," from Latin campus, "level ground." It evolved into the military sense from an army's "taking the field" (moving from a protected area or fortress to open land or country for battle). By 1809, the political sense was recorded — referring to the organized efforts of office-seekers to sway public opinion or influence their vote at an upcoming election.

Democracy is an important term derived from Greek for "power or rule by the people." A democrat first indicated an opponent of the aristocrats of the French Revolution of 1790 and the word is patterned on aristocrat. In the US, the Democratic Party is one of the two major political parties and its traditional symbol is the donkey. Though this party can be traced back to 1792 — actually named Republicans or Jeffersonian Republicans at that time — it did not take on the name of Democrat until the 1830s. The Republican Party, or GOP (Grand Old Party), has an elephant as its symbol. This party is traceable to 1853 and adopted its official name in 1854. The word republic is from Latin res publica, from res, "affair, matter" and publicus, "public."

Election came via French from Latin electionem from the earlier eligere, "to choose, pick out." The formal process of selecting a person for public office or of accepting or rejecting a political proposition by voting was used in ancient Greece and Rome and also for the selection of Holy Roman emperors and popes, but as a truly organized process it really only dates to the 17th century in Europe and North America.

The word politics is based on the Greek polites, "citizen," from polis, "city." Though government has existed way back in time, politics as the art or science of government dates only to the 16th century.

An early sense of poll was a count of heads or of votes, based on the original sense of poll, as "human head." The use of the word evolved into its sense as a "census" and then as the "voting at an election" by 1832, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Vote is from Latin votum, "vow, wish," which was the word"s original meaning in English. The word had a number of (now) obsolete meanings before it took on the sense (in the 15th century) of "a formal expression of one"s opinion or approval or disapproval of a matter, esp. a candidate, motion, or proposal."

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