The Hustings‏


In Anglo-Saxon times, a husting was a council, assembly, or tribunal to which a king, nobleman, or other leader summoned retainers or guardsmen. Nowadays, the hustings is a platform on which politicians and candidates give speeches during election time.

“When one with honeyed words but evil mind persuades the mob, great woes befall the state.” – Euripides, Orestes

The Old English word was borrowed from a Scandinavian source, probably from Old Norse husthing, a compound meaning ‘house assembly’. The assembly was so called because it was held in a household, or inside a building, whereas other meetings might be held outside. The change from “thing” to “ting” (similar to nosthyrl/nostril) probably took place before the word was borrowed into English. The English word thing survives in the sense ‘a public meeting, court, or legislative assembly in Scandinavia’; the parliament of Iceland is called the Althing.

As early as the 12th century, some English towns had a so-called hustings court, which decided minor civil suits and appeals from the rulings of sheriffs. It also served as a court of record, as for the conveyance of property. In London this hustings court was presided over by the Lord Mayor and aldermen. The court was traditionally held in The Guildhall, and the mayor and aldermen sat on a raised platform, called a husting. This court still exists in London, though it doesn’t have much power.

The raised platform in The (London) Guildhall led to another sense of hustings, first recorded in 1719: ‘a temporary platform on which candidates for British Parliament stood when nominated and from which they addressed the electorate’. After 1872, written ballots came into use, and so this meaning of hustings became obsolete.

From the historical references to ‘a platform’, hustings developed the more familiar sense ‘any place from which campaign speeches are made’. Hustings also refers to ‘the political activities involved in campaigning’, or more generally, ‘the campaign trail’. In these senses, hustings means the same as stump, though candidates don’t necessarily speak from a raised platform or tree stump.

“Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half.” – Gore Vidal, Screening History

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