• suffrage •
sêf-rij • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The right to vote. 2. A vote cast in deciding an issue. 3. A short, intercessory prayer on behalf of souls departed.
Notes: This word entered English in the 14th century meaning "a short prayer of intercession", but by the 16th century it was used to refer to voting in the British parliament. The adjective is suffragial, but the more interesting term is suffragette, the name given to women at the beginning of the 20th century who demonstrated for the woman's right to vote, for women's suffrage, which women in the US suffered without until 1920.
In Play: Although the word was more closely associated with the right of women to vote in the last century, it refers to anyone's right to vote, "We would probably elect a better government if we extended suffrage to elementary school children." But don't forget that it also refers to a prayer on behalf of a soul to be promoted to a higher office, "Let's all offer suffrages for Larry to be promoted to some position far from this office."
Word History: Suffrage goes back to Latin suffragare "to vote". The root of this word comes from the same source as English break. The English word break (= German brechen) comes from the Proto-Indo-European root, bhreg-. The initial [bh] became [b] in English and the [g] became [k], both by regular historical change. The [bh] in Latin, however, standing at the beginning of a word as it does here, became [f], so the Latin word for "break" is frangere, past participle fractus, the origin of our word fracture. With the prefix sub- "under" (the final [b] assimilating to the following [f]), this stem gave Latin suffragari "to vote." Why the connection between "break" and "vote"? The guess is that the early Romans used broken shards of pottery for casting votes. (We all owe a unanimous vote of gratitude to Ruth Baldwin for suggesting we look into the odd connotations of today's word.)
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