November 02, 2004

Pronouncing solemnly

Walking back from the market, late this afternoon, with stuff for the election-night party, I passed a group of students standing around the center of campus with Kerry-Edwards signs. Another group of students passed by in the other direction.

1st passing student:    Go Bush!
1st standing student:   F*** Bush!
2nd passing student:    Four more years!
2nd standing student:   Four more hours, dude!
(all laugh)

Well, we'll see.

Obligatory linguistic content: the word vote is from Latin vovere 'vow, solemnly promise', past participle votum 'vow, pledge'. In the 16th century, according to the OED, vote could be used Latin-wise to mean "a vow, a solemn promise or undertaking", and then the closely related idea "a prayer or intercession" or "a petition, a request":

1626 B. JONSON Fort. Isles, Song Wks. (Rtldg.) 651/1 All the heavens consent, With harmony to tune their notes, In answer to the public votes, That for it up were sent.  

For a little while in the middle of the 16th century it meant "an aspiration; an ardent wish or desire":

1667 Decay Chr. Piety v. p. 29 To breath out Moses's wish, O that men were wise; or if that be too hopeless a vote, O that men were not so destructively foolish.

However, the modern meaning "an indication, by some approved method, of one's opinion or choice on a matter under discussion; an intimation that one approves or disapproves, accepts or rejects, a proposal, motion, candidate for office, or the like", is apparently even older in English:

c1460 in Liber Pluscardensis (Skene) I. 394 Be eleccioune chosin men of gude,..Quhilkis has the votis of al the commonis hale.
1552 in Rec. Convent. Roy. Burghs (1870) I. 3 To woit about throw that haill nowmer,..and he that gettis monyest wottis to be chosin and sworn incontinent.
a1578 LINDESAY (Pitscottie) Chron. Scot. (S.T.S.) I. 18 Lyk as he haid beine suppreme magistratt apprivit be the vottis of this realme.

And where did Latin vovere come from? Apparently from indoeuropean *Hw-eghw-, Hughw- "declare, pronounce solemnly".

Anyhow, in a few hours we'll know, I hope, who "haid beine suppreme magistratt apprivit be the vottis of this realme".


Posted by Mark Liberman at November 2, 2004 07:13 PM