Where does the word “ballot” come from and What does ballot mean?

Originally, the word “ballot” meant “little ball,” contracted from the Italian, ballotta.

It may be easy to recall this original meaning if we remember that, formerly, the method of voting was through the use of a small ball, white or black, according as one voted affirmatively or negatively, dropped secretly into a receptacle.

The method, still used in some organizations, is extremely old. In ancient Athens it was employed by the judges, or dicasts, in giving their verdicts, except that small shells or beans or balls of metal or stone, variously colored or marked, were used as the ballots.

From the frequent use of beans in Athenian elections, a politician was sometimes humorously called a “bean-eater.”

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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