Poll, Pollster

“To poll” used to mean to cut the hair of a person or a creature, or to behead a person or a creature, or to rob a person. Not long after, “to poll” became associated with counting heads, figuratively, but we would do well to remember the more basic and possibly sinister denotations. “Pollster” began to appear in the very late 1930s–in association with Dr. Gallup, who was once described as a “punditital pollster.” Here are some sample-citations from the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language online:

1673 P. SKIPPON Diary in Norfolk Archaeol. (1926) [to cut hair]

1846 Times 14 Nov. 4/6 The only point to be settled is, whether or not the statue and the arch together look well as they stand. If the public could be polled, the majority would most certainly be ‘ayes’.

1939 Time 22 May (Nation section), Dr. George Horace Gallup, punditical pollster of public opinion, last week received..a postcard asking him to choose among the ten leading Presidential candidates.


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