Beyond Words - Language Blog

Election Day Etymologies!

Happy election day everyone! If you can vote and you’ve yet to do so, stop reading this post and get to your polling location! Whether your political allegiance lies with the republicans, the democrats, or neither party, here’s to another peaceful transfer of power.

[Update] Obama Wins! Well done, USA.

From the Latin word præsidere, meaning to act as head or to govern, we have the modern title of our commander-in-chief: President. First used in the United States in the 17th-century to designate the chief executive officers of individual colonies, the term president came to mean the principle executor of the country in 1787, as written in the U.S. Constitution.

The prefix “vice” in the office of vice-president also comes from Latin and means “instead of” or “in place of,” and marks the role of the vice-president as the person to replace the president if necessary.

The true etymology and the operational etymology of the word democrat vary greatly in sense and place of origin. From the Ancient Greek demokratia, a compound of demos, meaning “common people” and kratos, meaning “rule” or “strength”, we have the modern word democracy. Democracies originated in Greece in response to oligarchic rule, and with the goal of empowering Greek laymen. This appellation as a form of government was first used by the French in the mid 16th-century as democratie.

The usage of “democrat” as a political party originates in the United States of the early 19th-century, when the parties that had formerly been called the Federalists and Anti-Federalists to designate approval or disapproval of ratifying the Constitution. Branching from the Anti-Federalist Party, the then-termed Democratic-Republican Party spearheaded by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison took its name from the Ancient Greek meaning of “rule of the people.”

The term “republican” has its in origins in Rome of the 6th-century B.C. The Latin respublica is divided into the roots res, meaning a matter or affair, and publica, referring to the public. A respublica, then, is an affair of public interest, pertaining to the state. Like the modern usage of “democracy” to denote a form of government, “republic” was first adopted by the French in the beginning of the 17th-century. The modern Republican Party began in the United States in the mid 19th-century as an offshoot of the Whig Party and in opposition to the Democratic Party policies of President Andrew Jackson.