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Friday, June 19, 2015

What the heck is psephology?

In an opening sentence that I certainly wouldn't write in the hope that readers would stay with me for the rest of the article, a former Canadian Prime Minister's Office spokesman committed this on the CBC website:

"In a bid to avoid becoming an afterthought in the wake of Tom Mulcair's psephological onslaught, Justin Trudeau has thrown down a thick tranche of "transformational" measures to make politics more accountable."

Not surprisingly, this immediately caused a spike in lookups of "psephological" on the Merriam-Webster dictionary site.

"Psephological" (pronounced "seffa LOGICAL" or "seefa LOGICAL") means "concerning voting statistics and trends, or the analysis of these." and is derived from "psephology" ("sif OLLA gee" or "see FOLLA gee"), the prediction of electoral results based on analysis of sample polls, voting patterns, etc.

Where does this weird word come from?

In ancient Greek, a psephos was a pebble, and since pebbles were used in casting ballots, the prefix "psepho-" came to apply to voting. In ancient Greece, a "psephism" was a decree enacted by an elected assembly. 

The word "psephology" was coined in 1952.

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.