Daily Archives: December 1, 2008


A word that looks askance with a high eyebrow, almost like the eye of an ostrich – but not. Nor is it a form of exercise. The o at the beginning has the look of the mouth formed in shock and dismay and the sound of the condeming “aw,” complete with downward tone, as it’s the primary stress. The tra is perhaps for the transgression or the trash who committed it. The ostra together may make one think of the extraordinary action that led to this punishment. The cize is for what you will cut the malfeasor down to – and for the condemnatory sighs that will execute the act. The condemnation couldn’t involve words, of course; talking would imply inclusion, and to ostracize someone is to give him or her the coldest of shoulders. At least we don’t drive them out of town now, let alone hold an official vote to do so. This is what the ancient Greeks did when ostracizing – they wrote down the name of the miscreant on potsherds (ostraka, plural of ostrakon) and dropped them into a vase (an election of sorts was held wherein people could vote on whom, of anyone in Athens, they wished to see leave town for ten years, and the one with the most votes had ten days to beat it). A similar method was used to vote for officials, only in that case they dropped balls into one of two vases, depending whether they wished to vote for or against (funnels and opening both hands at once masked the choice). The ball voting method was taken up by the Freemasons to vote whether to accept a candidate, but they use one box and the fate is determined by the choice of colour of ball dropped in: white or black. If just one member votes against a candidate, then he is… yes.. blackballed. Which is not to say ostracized: he can always try again.