Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99

You Don't Say

News You Don't Say

In a word: plebiscite

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. This week's word:

Last year in Maryland, petition drives succeeded in putting on the ballot proposals to repeal laws passed by the General Assembly, including legalization of same-sex marriage. The repeal efforts failed. This year, efforts to reverse the abolition of the death penalty and restrictions on firearms failed to garner enough signatures to get repeals on the ballot. The editorial board of The Baltimore Sun opines today that fears among the state's Democratic establishment that referendum petitions would send us down the road to government by plebiscite were therefore unfounded.
A plebiscite (pronounced PLEB-uh-site) is a vote in which the entire electorate is invited to accept or reject a proposal. The Latin original of the word, plebiscitum, was a law enacted by the plebeians' assembly, the plebeians being the common citizens, distinguished from the aristocratic class, the patricians. The Latin word combines pleb, "the common people" and scitum, "decree," from sciscere, "to vote for."  
Example: In The Devil's Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce offers a characteristically cynical definition: "Plebiscite, n. A popular vote to ascertain the will of the sovereign."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Ask The Old Editor: accents

    Each week The Old Editor will attempt to address your entreaties for information and advice on grammar and usage, writing, writer-editor etiquette, and related subjects.

  • A toast for today

    A blogger named Matt Walsh has posted a jeremiad, beginning thus:

  • The peeververein canon

    Those of you who have browsed among these posts have seen repeated mentions of the superstitions, shibboleths, crotchets, and schoolroom oversimplifications to which language peevers resort. I thought it might be useful to compile a more or less comprehensive list of them.  

  • The Old Editor's Macro Checklist, a Throwback Thursday feature

    Copy editors are usually preoccupied with the micro editing, the spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and conformity to house style. But there are always bigger issues as well, and a year ago The Old Editor generated a checklist for macro editing that you might find useful. 

  • Issue the licenses or go home

    In Rowan County, Kentucky, adjacent to my native Fleming County, Kim Davis, the county clerk, is refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. “It’s a deep-rooted conviction; my conscience won't allow me to do that. It goes against everything I hold dear, everything sacred in my life,”...

  • And yet it moves

    In my editing class at Loyola University Maryland I seldom use specimens from student newspapers, because, I tell my students, finding fault with them is like fishing with dynamite—too easy to be morally sound.