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Our site has its first election now and the voting period starts in 12 hours. Therefore it is a good moment to figure out some of the election vocabulary in Latin.

What would be a good Latin word for an election campaign? The word "campaign" seems to come from the Latin campus, but none of the derivatives I looked into seemed to be suitable for a campaign of any sort.

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  • I'm sure the OP doesn't mean to suggest that election campaigns existed in the Roman republic, but just to clarify -- I don't think they did. The US didn't even originally have election campaigning, since the idea was considered unseemly. The notion dates to ca. 1800. – Ben Crowell 2 days ago
  • @BenCrowell I didn't mean to suggest that. I was only asking for a Latin word for it, whether it existed in Rome or not. – Joonas Ilmavirta 2 days ago
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    @BenCrowell There were certainly elections campaigns in republican times. – Sebastian Koppehel yesterday
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    This question made me think of Stage 11 Candidati in the Cambridge Latin Course (Unit 1), one of my favorite textbooks. And I hope we don't need divisores in our ambitio :) – Alex B. yesterday
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Although the English word comes from Latin (through the Romance languages), Latin uses a different word. The Latin word actually does appear in English, but in a different meaning.

The starting point is the verb ambire, literally "to go around". (Although derived from ire, this verb seems to follow the fourth conjugation.) It is used very commonly in the political sense, when candidates go around soliciting for votes. Therefore ambire is the verb "to campaign".

The corresponding noun is easily derived: ambitio is a good translation for the noun "campaign". It also has the figurative meaning of "desire for power or popularity", which is the sense that made its way to English in the form of the word "ambition".

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A good source for election-related vocabulary will probably be the Commentariolum Petitionis, written by Quintus Tullius Cicero for the benefit of his more famous brother Marcus ahead of the latter's successful bid for the consulate (presumably, but the authenticity is questionable—it is possible the text was actually written by an unknown post-Augustean author).

Going by the title, a “bid for office” or “candidacy” can be called a petitio.

The office you run for goes in the genetive: petitio magistratus, tribunatus, aedilitatis and so on. One who runs for an office (qui petitioni se dat) might be called a petitor (supposedly the more usual word would be candidatus, although the above-mentioned Commentariolum uses petitor a few times). His competitors are called, well, competitores.

If we think of an “election campaign” as the very process of attempting to be elected to an office, then I think this is a good word, but in English we might prefer translations like “bid, application, candidacy.” If we think more of “canvass,” then I believe ambitio, as cited by Joonas, would be more appropriate.

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