Welcome to the website woven for wordaholics, logolepts, and verbivores. Carnivores eat meat; herbivores eat plants and vegetables; verbivores devour words. If you are heels over head (as well as head over heels) in love with words, tarry here a while to graze or, perhaps, feast on the English language. Ours is the only language in which you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and your nose can run and your feet can smell.

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We Americans are caught in the grip of a feverish, frenetic, fervent, frantic and frenzied presidential campaign that demonstrates why in England people stand for election, but in the United States they run, especially in this year of electile dysfunction. It’s also a time that demonstrates that, although the classical societies of ancient Greece and Rome have vanished, Greek and Roman thought endures and prevails in the parlance of politics.

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.

As the joke goes, the etymology of the word politics derives from poly, “many,” and tics, which are blood-sucking parasites. In truth politics issues from the Greek word polities, “city, citizen.” Politics may make strange bedfellows, but, as we shall see, politics makes for even stranger, and sometimes colorful, vocabulary.

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.

We know that candidates are ambitious; it’s also worth knowing that ambition developed from the Latin ambitionem, “a going about,” from the going about of candidates for office in ancient Rome.

President descends from the Latin praesidio, “to preside, sit in front of or protect.” Presidents sit in the seat of government. When we speak of “the ship of state,” we are being more accurate etymologically than we know. The Greek word kybernan meant “to direct a ship.” The Romans borrowed the word as guberno, and ultimately it crossed the English Channel as governor, originally a steersman or pilot. That’s why the noun is governor and the adjective gubernatorial.

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.

Note the first four letters in the word ballot. A ballot is a device used to cast votes in a secret election. The original ballots were pieces of paper or small balls used to record decisions made by voters in Italy in the middle of the 16th century. Favorable votes were cast with a red or white ball. To vote against a candidate, one placed a black ball in the ballot box. Hence our verb to blackball, “to exclude.”

The original Greek meaning of the word idiot was not as harsh as our modern sense. Long before the psychologists got hold of the word, the Greeks used idiotes, from the root idios, “private,” as in idiom and idiosyncrasy, to designate those who did not hold public office. Because such people possessed no special status or skill, the word idiot gradually fell into disrepute.

The vote that we cast is really a “vow” or “wish,” and this is the precise meaning of the Latin votum. People in our society who fail to exercise their democratic right to vote on Election Day are sometimes labeled idiots.