Posted by: Jack Henry | October 6, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Primary, Campaign, and More

Good morning, everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve shared one of Richard Lederer’s columns with you, for good reason. My weekly stash of newspaper columns dried up because my buddy Ron couldn’t drop them by my desk. But this week, I received a special package in the mail! It was all of the columns Lederer has written since the quarantine began!

Today’s treat is from one of his more recent columns, “Here’s a classical primer of political word origins.” I’m including the link so you can read everything, if you are so inclined. If you’re just looking for a quick selection, then here you go!

Taking first things first, we’ll start with the word primary, which descends from the Latin primus, “first.” Primary, as a shortening of “primary election,” is first recorded in 1861. Latin e means “out” and lectus “pick or choose.” In an election we “pick out” candidates we wish to vote for.

Campaign is very much a fighting word. The Latin campus, “field,” is a clue that the first campaigns were conducted on battlefields. A military campaign is a series of operations mounted to achieve a particular wartime objective. A political campaign is an all-out effort to secure the election of a candidate to office.

When he went to the Forum in Roman times, a candidate for office wore a bleached white toga to symbolize his humility, purity of motive and candor. The original Latin root, candidatus, meant “one who wears white,” from the belief that white was the color of purity and probity.

There was wishful thinking even in ancient Roman politics, even though a white-clad Roman candidatus was accompanied by sectatores, followers who helped him secure votes by bargaining and bribery. The Latin parent verb candere, “to shine, to glow,” can be recognized in the English words candid, candor, candle and incandescent.

The story behind the word inaugurate is an intriguing one. It literally means “to take omens from the flight of birds.” In ancient Rome, augurs would predict the outcome of an enterprise by the way the birds were flying. These soothsayer-magicians would tell a general whether or not to march or to do battle by the formations of the birds on the wing. They might even catch one and cut it open to observe its entrails for omens. Nowadays, presidential candidates use their inauguration speeches to take flight on an updraft of words, rather than birds — and they often spill their guts for all to see….

And if all of the political talk drives you crazy, here is a little humor to bring a smile to (at least some of) your faces.

Now get out (or stay in) and vote!

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

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