Polling: Not What It Used To Be

Anyone else sick of being beaten over the head with poll results that count for absolutely nothing? What’s the point?

Recently I’ve also pondered the point of certain words, specifically their meaning and usage in today’s vernacular. It started—this time—when I clicked on a Writer’s Digest article on how to write more compelling dialogue and encountered an unknown term: beat.

It’s not that I haven’t heard or seen the word beat before, I simply didn’t know it in this context.

Funny thing, my editor has oft suggested that I break up large blocks of dialogue by inserting elements of movement or action—a character running a hand through hair or standing and putting hands on hips—or by adding details about the physical setting to ground the reader into a time and place for the dialogue and action. This is especially useful when beginning a new chapter with a block of dialogue.

As I perused this article about enhancing dialogue, I discovered the industry term for what my editor has been telling me to do for years is called a beat. And beats are definitely helpful in picking up the pace in dialogue, so maybe the term derives from music? Because the article, though informative, didn’t actually say how this term came to be, as in why it’s called a beat.

Kind of like I’ve never learned why the writing industry calls test readers “beta” readers. Why is that particular word used for someone who reads your book manuscript to provide feedback? And I can’t help but note that when it comes to beat and beta, we’re talking the same letters in different order.

These days, there’s another word driving me straight up a wall: poll. The reasons should be obvious, but because of constant election polling, I can’t turn on a TV to watch the news, I loathe opening my emails or texts, and social media chatter is physically sickening. Meanwhile, I’m never actually one of the people polled in this endless onslaught of polling itself.

As an aside, I could really use a new season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel right about now, both for much-needed comedy relief from reality TV known as news, and because it was the ideal show to help me learn to write rapid-paced, multi-character, comedic dialogue. Also, every episode is like watching a marvelous Broadway play. I do not want that show to end, but I would like polling to. Forever.

Hence, I got to thinking about why the word poll is used for something so annoying and exhaustively tiring to hear about. Poll, as a noun, means the process of voting in an election, but it also means—Are you ready for this? —a person’s head. More on that momentarily.

Poll as a verb means to record the opinion or vote of a person, or to check the status of something. Which I already knew and wished it didn’t. But, once again, why the word poll?

Poll is a 14th-century word—yes, that old—meaning scalp or head. And once upon a long time ago, votes were actually taken by gathering people together and counting heads. The place where this was done, sometimes in an open field, was called “the polls.”

I posit that it’s time for change, as we don’t live in the thirteen hundreds anymore—unless you’re a Republican trying to control females.

Polling is about as logical or potentially accurate as counting heads in a field—done by someone or some corporation that may not even know how to properly count or might be predisposed to count based on personal bias and bullshit.

Using poll results to strike fear and loathing into the voting populace is also akin to scalping. Enough already. How about some actual dialogue with actual people not based on a skewed percentages, statistics, and absolute unintelligible blathering nonsense?

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