Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Psephologist Goes Mano a Mano

Political consultant Peter Fenn appeared on CNN Wednesday afternoon (1/30/08) and spoke about the Democratic debate set for Thursday night (1/ 31/08). He noted that it will be down to two major candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Referring to the expected tussle, he said “It will be mano against . . .well . . . not mano.” At least he didn’t say womano.

Nay, nay, Mr. Fenn. Mano a mano does not mean man to man, a mistake appearing far too frequently these days. Rather, it means hand to hand, and it comes to us from the Spanish, which borrowed it from the Latin manus (as in manual labor). Two women can fight mano a mano. This atrocity belongs in the Museum of the Misused, along with thinking that “begging the question” is the same as “raising the question” or “asking the question.” It ain’t.

And now for something completely different. Mr. Fenn might be called a psephologist.

The ancient Athenians used to vote by putting a pebble in a ballot box of their choice. The Greek word for pebble was psephos, and that has led to several English terms.

psephism: a decree enacted by a vote of a public assembly, especially that of ancient Athens.
psephocracy: the form of government which results from the election of representatives by ballot; the system of government by elected representatives.
psephocrat: an adherent or advocate of government by elected representatives.
psephograph: a machine used for the automatic recording of votes. It was invented in the early 20th century by a young Italian, Signor Boggiano, to thwart ballot box stuffing.
psephologist: a political scientist who specializes in the study of elections; an analyst or forecaster of voting statistics and trends. The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that Dr. David Butler, of Oxford University, invented the term in jest in 1952 on the suggestion of R.B. McCallum. ‘Taint funny, McGee.
psephology: the study of public elections; statistical analysis of trends in voting; the prediction of electoral results based on analysis of sample polls, voting patterns, etc.

In closing, I should mention that a few -pseph- words have nothing to do with voting.

Psephite is a coarse-grained rock.
• There was an ancient custom of assigning numerical values to letters. Two words that added up to the same sum were called isopsephic: equal in numeric value. There was mystical meaning behind the process. [See abraxis]
Psephomancy was divination accomplished by drawing a number of small marked pebbles from a jar, then interpreting their meaning. This was also known as lithomancy and pessomancy.

SIDEBAR: Psephos Election Archive

SIDEBAR: The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show

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