Vote and Veto

During my recent search for words with multiple Qs and Xs I discovered quinquesyllabic, a fantastic construction which describes a word of five syllables and also is a word of five syllables. Yesterday, in a similarly inquisitive frame of mind, I realised that vote and veto are an immensely pleasing anagrammatic couplet.


First of all, let’s be absolutely sure what we’re talking about. The facts are these:


Vote [voht]

1. a formal expression of opinion or choice, either positive or negative, made by an individual or body of individuals;

2. the means by which such expression is made, as a ballot, ticket etc;

3. the right to such expression;

4. the decision reached by voting, as by a majority of ballots cast;

5. a collective expression of will as inferred from a number of votes


Veto [vee-toh]

1. the power or right vested in one branch of a government to cancel or postpone the decisions, enactments etc of another branch, especially the right of a president, governor or other chief executive to reject bills passed by the legislature;

2. the exercise of this right;

3. also called the “veto message”, a document exercising such right and setting forth the reasons for such action;

4. a nonconcurring vote by which one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council can overrule the actions or decisions of the meeting on matters other than procedural;

5. an emphatic prohibition of any sort


—from http://dictionary.reference.com (noun definitions only)


I wondered if the words had a common root, but they come from different Latin verbs: vote from votum, meaning “to vow”; veto from vetare, meaning “to forbid”.


What’s so pleasing about the pair is that the differences in their spelling are analogous to their differences in meaning. They use the same four letters and the positions of two are exchanged: an anagram but not a reversal. The words also describe the same action in opposite directions, but while a veto is always a vote, a vote is not always a veto.


If meaning could somehow be ascribed a value from the four letters involved, then the words would become ciphers for their own definition. This is tremendously exciting, if you are the kind of person who is excited by the word quinquesyllabic. I only wish this had occurred to me during my efforts as a ten year-old to create an entirely new language—alas, that particular linguistic Tower of Babel collapsed into a sinkhole of failed logic and limited jotter space.



Originally published 09/07/13