Thursday, April 01, 2010

hustings and stumping

I follow the Twitterings of the candidates for our House of Commons seat and today each had a tweet that went something like this:
Really enjoyed Older People's Council hustings. Some great questions & interesting answers!
I've heard the word husting(s) at  previous British election times, but this time felt the need to look it up.  Wikipedia tells me:
A husting (called a stump in the United States) originally referred to a physical platform from which representatives presented their views or cast votes before a parliamentary or other election body.
We then have metonymic transfer to a name for the activity that traditionally went on on those types of platform.  There's a nice little explanation of the terms on this University of Texas site.  It starts:
[C]andidates for political office and an entourage of supporters, handlers, and journalists are said to go on the stump, or simply stumping.
It seems like a rather unattractive word to refer to a core activity of political campaigning – traveling from place to place making speeches in front of live audiences.
It goes on to distinguish between this sense of stump and another (orig. AmE) sense of the verb to stump: 'to befuddle' before picking up on hustings:
On the stump or on the hustings?
Sometimes when candidates are on the stump, we say that they are on the hustings. Hustings, according to The Word Detective comes from the Old Norse word husthing, meaning "house assembly."
Centuries ago rulers might convene a husthing, usually composed only of members of the immediate royal household as opposed to a larger popular assembly of constituents, in order to gather advice or issue decrees. The English later adapted the word as husting to refer to the senior court of the City of London, and later narrowed the meaning to refer to the physical platform in that court where the Lord Mayor sat.
Over time this last meaning was generalized to refer to any platform from which political candidates might address their audience, and more commonly today it refers to the campaign trail, which we also know as the stump. Notably, husting usually appears in modern English only in the plural form hustings, and then usually in the phrase on the hustings.
The presence of hustings on this American website indicates that the term is not limited to BrE--but it wasn't something I knew from my Democratic Party days.  A quick corpus search (BNC versus COCA) had hustings occurring three times as often in BrE as in AmE (I was surprised it wasn't more).  The last line of the above quotation indicates an area of difference.  On the hustings accounts for more than half of the occurrences of hustings in the AmE corpus, but less than a third of the occurrences in the BrE corpus.  The singular form husting does not occur in either corpus.  Meanwhile, AmE stump speech, i.e. the speech that a candidate makes repeatedly at different locales, occurs 45 times per 100 million words in the AmE corpus and not at all in the British corpus.

A hustings in BrE, at least, refers to an event where more than one candidate is present to debate and discuss issues with potential voters (as in the Older People's Council event that our candidates went to today). This differs from how the stump has developed--stump speeches are generally made without the presence of the other candidates.  The OED, on the topic of this sense of stump:

 14. Originally U.S.    a. In early use, the stump (sense 2) of a large felled tree used as a stand or platform for a speaker.    b. Hence, ‘a place or an occasion of political oratory’ (Cent. Dict.). to go on the stump, to take the stump: to go about the country making political speeches, whether as a candidate or as the advocate of a cause.
  In the U.S. the word ‘does not necessarily convey a derogatory implication’ (Cent. Dict.). In Britain, though now common, it is still felt to be somewhat undignified.
 And I'm just going to end here without further comment!

20 comments:

fauxklore said...

I can't think of the last time I've seen "stump" alone - it is always "stump speech" and used just at rallies.

Since you say "hustings" has to do with events at which multiple candidates are present, I'd guess that the best current American equivalent is the "town hall meeting" or just a "candidates' forum."

Chris said...

I suppose that another common division between US and British political-speak is the fact that British politicians stand for office, while American politicians run for office.

Shaun Clarkson said...

I'm helping to organise a hustings for our constituency at the moment, from which I have learned:
a)hustings is a stand alone word, not as I assumed hustings meeting or session
b) for some reason it isn't in the Word spellchecker (with or without the 's')

Roger Owen Green said...

AmE- Hustings is not unfamiliar to me. Increasingly, stump is seen either as "stump speech" (as nopted) or "on the stump".

Paul Danon said...

As well as on the hustings one can talk about hustings meaning an election-meeting. I've heard the latter used more in university-contexts than in the context of popular elections. At the hustings can also be used figuratively in BrE to mean the whole process by which candidates present their case to the electorate, not just meetings in draughty church-halls. On the stump is sometimes used by writers in BrE publications but it's one of those AmE expressions which we BrE-speakers sometimes understand and vaguely think we use but don't. Others include rookie, boondocks*, starting over and drinking the Kool-Aid. This is known as special relationshipish which is AmE language that's understood but not used by BrE-speakers. It's like the special foreign-policy relationship which the UK thinks it enjoys with the US but which the US increasingly doesn't enjoy with the UK.

* Pronunciation in the international fanatic alphabet: \boondarks\

Shaun Clarkson said...

This does remind me of another difference in election jargon I came across here http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/04/an-economists-view-of-the-new-oscar-voting/

If the comments on it are representative, then the act of voting for someone tolerable who might win, rather than the no-chance candidate you really want, is strategic voting in the USA whereas here in the UK we call it tactical voting.

Whether or not this reflects a significant difference in our attitudes to elections I don't
know.

JD (The Engine Room) said...

Following on from Paul Danon's comment, as a British English speaker I've only come across 'hustings' once - in a university context. When I encountered it, it was without article: "It's hustings tomorrow night." "Are you going to hustings?"

lynneguist said...

JD and Paul: You're not following Brighton Pavilion elections, then. Search for 'hustings' on Caroline Lucas's blog, and you get 33 hits--none of them 'on the hustings' but a meeting use.

me said...

I have only ever come across "the hustings" used once - in an episode of Blackadder. Now it finally makes sense! Doesn't appear to be common in Australian English from what I can tell...

Zach said...

I would agree with Me. I'm from Australia and I've never heard of hastings OR stump here. Politicians here either 'debate' or 'make statements'.

DetailBear said...

In Canada, I've heard "on the hustings" quite often, but never "husting(s)" on its own. This would make sense with our strong British traditions.

I've only heard "stump speech" and the like from US sources.

Interesting that Britain refers to a built structure and the US refers to a land-clearing leftover for the same concept. Again, language reflects history.

robert61 said...

Swedish still retains some frozen cases that end in "s" even though case is no longer an active feature of the language. For example, "go to bed" is "gå till sängs", with an "s" added to the noun (säng = bed).

The "s" on hustings may thus be a relic of Norse usage rather than an English plural form. Caveat: I'm not a linguist; this little just-so story is pure (but plausible) speculation.

Paschal greetings to all.

Julie said...

I think the idea was that US candidates had to go from one tiny town (too small to have any kind of proper platform) to another to campaign. In the 19th century, that's probably what did happen. Often you will hear commentators complain that a politician's televised speech was essentially a stump speech. It's a put down, suggesting that he couldn't be bothered to write a new speech for the occasion.

townmouse said...

Do American politicians also get on their soap boxes, or do they just stick to stumps?

Julie said...

In America, everyone has a soap box...only politicians use stumps!

In real life, I imagine they stood on soap boxes as well as stumps.

A "soap box" implies that one has a cause that one feels passionately about, and uses every possible opportunity to express. Stumps, as I implied before,refer to routine speeches, as one might give in every town in Iowa. So, although I've never heard it put this way, it should be possible for a politician "on the stump" to "get on his soap box" at the same time.

RWMG said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Picky said...

In EngE, "stumping" is a cricket term.

in EngE, almost everything is a cricket term.

biochemist said...

Picky, I agree - in BrE, to be stumped, or to stump someone, implies an abrupt halt - as would be the case in cricket (the wicket keeper removes the bales from the wickets/stumps). Stumping around is bit like stomping around - heavy, irritated footsteps.

And I have always heard 'at the hustings', resembling 'at the debate' in the UK.

Richard Gadsden said...

(BrE) "hust" is used as a verb as well; a candidate will hust. I think that's more insidery jargon than general usage, though.

Albert Welch said...

Massachusetts age 25-

Stump in this sense only exists for me in "stump speech"

I don't have hustings in my vocabulary at all.

Debate, or ial debate seems to be a rough equivalent.

Outside of politics it might be a QnA session.(Questions and Answers)