Posted by: Jack Henry | August 26, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Suffrage

Hello, my beautiful dandelions! I hope you are having a bright and cheerful day!

I’m sending this Editor’s Corner article a day early in honor of today being Women’s Equality Day. Though I like to celebrate 365 days of this, it is on this day that the United States commemorates the 1920 adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment (Amendment XIX) to the United States Constitution, which gave women in America the right to vote. Most of the JHA offices should be acknowledging this in some way—if you are in an office, check out what’s happening there!

If you are an Editor’s Corner reader, you get this special delivery to your mailbox because I love to share. So, what does the vote have to do with English?

Well, I was watching Schoolhouse Rock’s “Suffering Till Suffrage” video, and I got curious about where the word suffrage came from. Here is a nice article that answers a few questions about the word. The full article is here: “What Does Suffrage Mean” by Jone Johnson Lewis.

"Suffrage" is used today to mean the right to vote in elections, sometimes also including the right to run for and hold elected public office. It is commonly used in phrases like "woman suffrage" or "women’s suffrage" or "universal suffrage."

Derivation and History

The word "suffrage" comes from the Latin suffragium meaning "to support." It already had the connotation of voting in classical Latin, and may have been used as well for a special tablet on which one recorded a vote.

It likely came into English through French. In Middle English, the word took on ecclesiastical meanings, as well, of intercessory prayers. In the 14th and 15th centuries in English, it was also used to mean "support."

By the 16th and 17th centuries, "suffrage" was in common use in English to mean a vote in favor of a proposal (as in a representative body like Parliament) or of a person in an election. The meaning then broadened to apply to a vote for or against candidates and proposals. Then the meaning broadened to mean the ability to vote by individuals or groups….

The Enlightenment, with emphasis on equality of all persons and "consent of the governed," paved the way for the idea that the suffrage, or ability to vote, should be extended beyond a small elite group. Wider, or even universal suffrage, became a popular demand. "No taxation without representation" called for those who were taxed to also be able to vote for their representatives in government.

Universal male suffrage was a call in political circles in Europe and America by the first half of the 19th century, and then some began to extend that demand to women as well as woman suffrage became a key social reform issue through 1920.

Active suffrage refers to the right to vote. The phrase passive suffrage is used to refer to the right to run for and hold public office. Women were, in a few cases, elected to public office (or appointed) before they won the right to active suffrage.

Suffragist was used to denote someone working to extend suffrage to new groups. Suffragette was sometimes used for women working for woman suffrage.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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