suffrage

noun

suf·​frage ˈsə-frij How to pronounce suffrage (audio)
 sometimes  -fə-rij
1
: a short intercessory prayer usually in a series
2
: a vote given in deciding a controverted question or electing a person for an office or trust
3
: the right of voting : franchise
also : the exercise of such right

Did you know?

Why would a 17th-century writer warn people that a chapel was only for “private or secret suffrages”? Because suffrage has been used since the 14th century to mean “prayer” (especially a prayer requesting divine help or intercession). So how did suffrage come to mean “a vote” or “the right to vote”? In answering that question, we get a lesson about the ways Latin words enter English. The Latin word suffrāgium has a number of vote-related meanings, including “a vote cast in an assembly” and “the right to vote.” In Medieval Latin, this same word had expanded to mean “vote, selection, aid, support, intercessory prayer,” and it’s this suffrāgium that gave us the prayer kind of suffrage in the 14th century. It wasn’t until the 16th century that English speakers mined the older—the classical—Latin suffrāgium for a word to use with regard to voting, and especially to refer to the right to vote.

Examples of suffrage in a Sentence

women who fought for suffrage even as the world entered the 21st century, some nations still did not permit women's suffrage
Recent Examples on the Web The actress-musician, 35, knew in the early stages of writing the women's suffrage–focused Broadway musical that James, 43, would be a perfect fit for the role of Ida B. Wells. Lizzie Hyman, Peoplemag, 9 June 2024 In 1916, Edna and 7-year-old Gellhorn marched in a rally for women’s suffrage at the Democratic National Convention in St. Louis. David Kindy, Smithsonian Magazine, 4 June 2024 Yet women demanded inclusion and fought for their own representation and interests through contentious suffrage movements and rights campaigns that ultimately strengthened democracy in general. Erica Chenoweth, Foreign Affairs, 8 Feb. 2022 These drives — with a long history stretching back to women's suffrage and the Civil Rights movement — register some of the nation's hardest-to-reach potential voters. Ashley Lopez, NPR, 16 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for suffrage 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'suffrage.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

Middle English, "help, aid, intercessory prayer, indulgence," borrowed from Middle French & Medieval Latin; Middle French, borrowed from Medieval Latin suffrāgium "vote, selection, aid, support, intercessory prayer," going back to Latin, "vote cast in an assembly, right to vote, decision reached by a vote, influence exerted in support of a candidate or policy," from suffrāgor, suffrāgārī "to express public support (for a candidate, measure, etc.), be favorable (toward)" (from suf-, assimilated form of sub- sub- + -frāg-, probably from the base of frangere, past participle frāctus, "to break, shatter") + -ium, deverbal suffix of function or state — more at break entry 1

Note: Senses of suffrage having to do with voting were borrowed directly from classical Latin from the 16th century onward. The older literal meaning of Latin suffrāgārī that presumably underlies the attested senses having to do with political support and voting is obscure. Though the identity of suf- is clear, the element -frāg- has been subject to varying analyses. The most commonly accepted view sees -frāg- —despite the unexpected vowel length—as representing the verb frangere, though the import is not obvious. The idea that the reference is to the use of broken pieces of tile or pottery in voting is unlikely in view of what is known of earlier Roman election practices; moreover, the primary meaning of the verb suffrāgārī is more oriented toward support of a candidate than the mechanics of voting. In a revival of an older analysis Jyri Vaahtera connects -frāg- with the noun fragor "noise of breaking, crash, noisy clamor, shouting," and assumes that the verb alluded to the noise of an armed assembly banging weapons as a sign of acclamation (see "The origin of Latin suffrāgium," Glotta, vol. 61 [1993], pp. 66-80.)

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of suffrage was in the 14th century

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Cite this Entry

“Suffrage.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/suffrage. Accessed 20 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition

suffrage

noun
suf·​frage ˈsəf-rij How to pronounce suffrage (audio)
: the right of voting
also : the exercise of such right

Legal Definition

suffrage

noun
suf·​frage ˈsə-frij How to pronounce suffrage (audio)
1
: a vote in deciding a controverted question or the choice of a person for an office or trust
no State…shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the SenateU.S. Constitution art. V
2
: the right of voting : franchise
also : the exercise of such right
Etymology

Latin suffragium vote, political support, from suffragari to support with one's vote

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