Printable Version
Pronunciation: pol Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. The head, especially the part on which hair grows. 2. To count votes, to survey opinions. 3. To survey public opinion using a sample of the surveyed audience.

Notes: This word has a surprising history suggested by the first meaning above. Someone who tallies polls in the third meaning above is called pollster. The normal adjective and noun is the same as the present participle, polling, as in 'polling place' and 'recent polling shows'. However, a passive adjective is also possible, pollable "capable of being polled'. The noun itself may be verbalized: 'to poll the electorate'.

In Play: Today's Good Word is used more frequently as a noun: "The dozens of political polls provide the substance for discussions on the several round-the-clock US news networks during election season." However, it may also be used as a verb: "I would like to see the Americans polled on whether they think the election season is too long."

Word History: Today's word still means "head" and has been used by writers as late as 2002. This sense appears in poll tax, a phrase originally meaning "head tax", a tax levied on all people determined by head count rather than a tax on voting. Tadpole is a reduction of earlier tada "toad" + poll "head" because of its large head in comparison to the rest of its body. Another related Good Word is pollard. English apparently borrowed today's word from Middle Dutch pol "summit, top, crown of a tree or the head" (in Modern Dutch it means only "tuft"). Danish puld "hat crown" also seems related, though no trace of this word is found outside Germanic languages. (I'll bet if I polled all who are reading this, they would want to thank Jackie Straus for suggesting today's topical Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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