Sunday, 19 February 2017


Have not paid any attention to the news for years. Don't watch it, listen to it, or read about it - virtually every single item I found frustrating or it angered me. If something major happens, someone will tell me.

And this is just how I learned someone nobody likes had been invited to speak in Britain and then wasn't and now has .... I lost interest halfway through and already wondering why various terms had been coined for parliaments around the world. Thus rather than being political, which isn't me, I've opted for the etymological, which is not only me but also infinitely more interesting. There are many different terms for the body of government but will start with the English term.

Parliament is not recorded in English until the end of the twelfth century. From Old French parlement and parler 'to speak'.

Althing, the Icelandic version, is derived from the Germanic thingam 'assembly', also seen in Old English thing, Middle Dutch dinc, and Old High German ding among others. All these can be traced to Proto-Indo-European tenk, literally meaning 'stretch' but used in the sense of 'time' or 'session' put aside for a meeting. Note the modern 'hustings', only heard today to refer to politicians on the campaign trail, shares this origin and came to English from Old Norse husthing or 'house assembly'.

Bundestag and Bunderstat are the two houses of the German parliament, these translating to 'Federal Diet' and 'Federal Council' respectively. Here 'Diet' comes from the Latin dieta or 'parliamentary assembly' and, etymologically speaking, shares an origin with the idea of food intake.

Commons as in 'House of' simply means 'general' and came from the Latin communis.

Congress is first used in the late 14th century to refer to 'a body of attendants' or 'meeting of armed forces', not seen in the modern sense until the early 16th century. This is derived from the Latin congressus, which could be used to mean both a friendly or hostile encounter, depending on the context. Taking this back further we find Latin com 'together' and gradus 'a step'.

Cortes is Spain's version, from Latin cortem which shares an origin with 'court'. While used in the sense of 'assembly' and those present, it also refers to 'the enclosed yard' and where such could assemble.

Curia shares an origin with the above 'Cortes', as we should expect as this is the senate of Rome and where curia meant 'court' and could well come from co wiria 'community of men'.

Dail, the Irish parliament, simply means 'assembly'. Interestingly the root of this Irish term is also the root for the English 'deal', as in the sense 'share, quantity, amount' and both have a common root in Proto-Indo-European dail 'to divide'.

Diet was an assembly of the Roman Empire and is discussed under Bundestag above.

Duma is from the Russian verb meaning 'to think, consider'. First used for local councils from about 1870, it is not seen for the national assembly until 1905. Having a common root with both 'doom' and 'deem', these all originate in the Proto-Germanic doms 'judgement'.

Knesset, the Israeli parliament, takes its name from the Mishnaic Hebrew keneseth 'gathering, assembly'.

Majlis, the Persian version, is from the Arabic for 'assembly' although literally 'session' and derived from jalasa 'to be seated'.

Poliburo, another Russian term, dates from 1927 and the Russain politbyuro. It is a contraction of politicheskoe byuro meaning 'political bureau'.

Presidium is also Russian but dates from much earlier than the previous example. While the modern idea is not seen until 1924 as prezidium, this originates from Latin praesidium 'to preside over'.

Riksdag is a Swedish word and the general term for 'parliament' or 'assembly'. Along with Finland's Riksdag, the Estonian Riigikogu, historical German Reichstag and Danish Rigsdagen. All these are derived from rike 'royal power' and dag 'conference'.

Senate is from the Latin senex 'the elder' or even 'the old one'. Here suggesting with great age comes wisdom.

Tynwald is derived from the Old Norse 'the meeting place'. Famously this parliament of the Isle of Man is the oldest continuous parliamentary body in the world.

Witan, the Saxon political institution, is a contraction of Witenagemot and from the Proto-Germanic witan 'to know' and ultimately Proto-Indo-European weid 'to see'.

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