Ostracize — began with potsherds

June 15th   2019

___ Ostracize literally means to ‘vote out.’

It derives from the Greek ostrakizein, that means to banish by voting with potsherds.

Yes, potsherds, or broken pottery — ostraka in Greek. The act of ostracizing originated in Athens. Each year at an annual assembly Athenians were asked if they wanted to hold an “ostracism.” If they did, an official ostracism was held two months later, where they submitted names of those to be considered to “ostracize.” Potsherds were used as voting tokens. The citizens scratched the names of those they wanted to ostracize, and dropped their votes in urns. Officials sorted the names in piles. The persons whose piles had the most ostraka were banished from Athens for 10 years.

This was not a political process; ’twas a social process, and a formal one. Folks nominated to be “ostracized” were oft considered a threat to the state. However, it could be for any reason. What mattered was the number of potsherds that had their names.

Today ostracism is not a formal act, yet ’tis a bit organized. A social group may collectively ostracize an individual, by not-inviting them to parties, for example, or openly shunning them. Members of a political group could agree to ostracize any individual who opposes their views.

Usage examples:
When she moved into the exclusive community Abby relished in the elite social scene. Yet it was only a matter of time before people realized she came from “new money,” and they ostracized her from big galas and intimate tea parties alike.
Kenny over-indulged at the club’s monthly wine tasting, to the point of getting sloppy drunk. Since then he was ostracized from that event and all other gatherings. 
Vivian took an immediate dislike to the lady who opened a boutique in their small town. Instead of welcoming her, Vivian worked to disparage her, and to convince folks to ostracize her.

Have you ever felt ostracized?

Sources: Webster’s New World Dictionary, Online Etymology Dictionary, Wiktionary.


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