Poll originally meant the human head and was later used for the counting of heads. Poll in the sense of voting dates from about 1600. Another early method of voting was putting stones or balls into a container. Ballot is from the Italian ballotta, a small ball. Psephology, the prediction of election results, comes from the Greek psephos (pebble).

Flax is one of the earliest known textile fibres. A heckle (from the Middle Dutch hekelen) was originally an instrument for combing the strong fibres of flax or hemp. Heckle was later applied to the public questioning of parliamentary candidates. The candidates would be familiar with another early meaning of heckle: to irritate.

mag cover This article is from the August 2004 issue of New Internationalist.
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