Saturday, February 12, 2005

Politically active

In terms of word-loans, sports and politics must have more in common than normally perceived. The stumps of the cricket pitch have given the verb stump to politicians. Stumping refers to the travelling of a politician in a district or country while making political speeches. This has led to the phrase ‘on the stump’, meaning political campaigning. If cricket and politics are not to be mentioned in the same breath, the fancier origin of stumping holds that originally, politicians on the campaign trail frequently stood on tree stumps to address voters, which also explains the campaign speech being called a ‘stump speech’.

What stump is to America, hustings is to Britain. Hustings comes from the Old English husting, ‘deliberative assembly’. It originated in the Norse husthing made up of ‘hus’ or house and ‘thing’ or assembly, meaning household assembly held by a leader. In the same vein, until 1872, the raised platform from which candidates were nominated to the British Parliament was called hustings, harking back to hustings, which was earlier the name of the highest court of London. These activities evolved into today’s sense of ‘electoral proceedings’.

The official version of the role of a spin-doctor is that this person is the spokesperson employed to give a favourable interpretation of events to the media, especially on behalf of a political party. Unofficially, a spin-doctor is a representative behind the scenes to ensure that personalities, policies and events are given the best possible interpretation in the media. The word is a blend of spin, taken from ballgames, in which spinning a ball projects it in the desired direction. And, doctor is from the verb ‘to doctor’, meaning ‘to tamper or falsify’.

The word ‘spin’ shot to fame when reporters began to put a bit of a ‘spin’ or ‘topspin’ in order to spice a report. Originating in the US, where baseball is mystic in its public appeal, the spin of the baseball led to its use in journalism. It was during Jimmy Carter’s tenure that spin was used in the context of politics and in 1984 spin-doctor came to stay.