• psephology •
Pronunciation: see-fah-lê-jee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: The study of elections, voting patterns, and opinion polls.
Notes: Today's Good Word comes with all the accoutrements of any word that contains the combining form -ology. Someone who performs this service is a psephologist who carries out psephological studies. We may speak of candidates who are psephologically ahead prior to an election.
In Play: This word refers to a serious subdiscipline of political science: "Morton is in psephology; he gives us rides on the 'pollacoasters' before the election every two years." If psephology were more accurate, we would not need elections: "Tommy Rott saw his psephological lead melt away going up to the senatorial election." I propose that in the United States we hold presidential elections only in Ohio, since that state seems to determined outcome of all presidential elections in recent times.
Word History: Today's Good Word is composed of Greek psephos "pebble" + logy "word, idea". Psephos reflects the early Greeks' habit of voting by dropping a pebble into one of several urns. For instance, at the end of a trial, jurors would drop a pebble into a 'guilty' or 'innocent' urn. By the 15th century Europeans used a small ball, ballotta in Italian, to do the same thing. The Italians borrowed the word ball from some Germanic language and added the diminutive suffix, -otta "small" to it. It is interesting to note that Greeks not only voted with pebbles, but with pot shards, in Greek, ostraka. These were reserved for negative votes. The names of politicians were written on the shards and any politician who received the largest number of votes over 6000 was exiled or ostracized.