Beer and Politics

by Frank Pellegrini

Perhaps one of the oldest words in the English language is beer. Its first known use dates back before the 12th century. It is derived from Old English and Germanic roots which imply the process of brewing. Fascinating!

I am constantly intrigued by words; specifically, how they came to be, and from where. Knowing the etymology of words helps us to put them in proper context and to communicate more effectively.

Politics is a much younger word than beer. Its first known use was around 1529. That is some 400 years after beer! However, the roots of the word politics go way back to the ancient Greeks. Polis in Greek means city or community (think metropolis). Polit in Greek refers to the citizens who live those cities or communities. English words that stem from these ancient roots will have something to do with communities and their inhabitants. Police enforce laws for the safety of the community. Politics is the art, science, and practice of governing the activities of the inhabitants for their communal happiness and protection.

Democracy is ten years younger than politics. Its first known use in English dates back to around 1539. Just like politics, the Greeks also contributed the roots for democracy. In its purest sense, a democracy infers direct rule by the majority view of the citizens of a community. This causes me a little confusion as to whether I live in a democracy.  For as long as I have been a citizen of the City of Chicago, or the State of Illinois, or the nation of the United States of America, I have never been asked to directly offer my preference as to any particular law, rule, code, regulation, statute, or ordinance. Perhaps in ancient Greece, or the fledging democracy of the United States, the pure form of democracy may have been more manageable than is possible in today’s world.

That brings us to the Romans, of course. Enter republic. The Romans contributed both the word and the system of government. The Latin roots infer “that which is of the people”. As an English word, republic is the youngster among the others I have discussed here (its first known use was 1596). A republic allows the voice of the citizens to be expressed through chosen representatives for the governance of the community. Much more efficient than the disorder and mayhem that might arise from each citizen voting for each law, don’t you agree?

The trick is to actually let those chosen representatives know how we feel about how we wish to be governed. Thanks to the Romans again, we have advocacy. The Latin roots of advocate suggest a call for aid. As English words, advocacy and advocate, like beer, are real old-timers, both dating back to the 14th century. When we advocate, we call out for assistance in our cause.

I am sure you now know where my etymological journey is designed to take you. Please make your voice heard with your representatives at ILTA’s Advocacy Day*, April 18th. They need to hear from us. Otherwise, they have no idea of how we wish to be governed.

Perhaps, after the strain of our visits in the Capital, we can rest, and enjoy a beer together.

*Free to attend. Designees receive 2CE.