Meanings: “Buses” (Redux) and “Power”

May 1, 2012

All hail the power of the blog!  A few weeks ago I wrote a post about “busses and buses,” featuring a sign at my son’s elementary school here in Topsham Maine that declared “busses only” on the driveway in front of the school during certain hours.  Of course they meant “buses only.”

After the blog entry appeared, down came the offending sign at Williams-Cone School and at other schools in the district, and now there are new signs at the schools.  Hurray for orthographic power!

Now if only we could get the sign to say “between the hours of 7:30 A.M. and 4:00 P.M.” rather than “between the hours of 7:30 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.”  “Between” requires the “and” to complete it correctly.  Maybe next time the sign needs replacing….

Even though “power” has come to have a slightly unsavory connotation, its etymology is straightforward, as helps us see:

power (n.) Look up power at
c.1300, from Anglo-Fr. pouair, O.Fr. povoir, noun use of the infinitive, “to be able,” earlier podir (9c.), from V.L. *potere, from L. potis “powerful” (see potent). Meaning “a state or nation with regard to international authority or influence” is from 1726. The verb meaning “to supply with power” is recorded from 1898. Related: Powered; powering. Power-broker (1961) said to have been coined by T.H. White in reference to the 1960 U.S. presidential election. Phrase the powers that be is from Rom. xiii.1. As a statement wishing good luck, more power to (someone) is recorded from 1842.

Whatever some hypocritical ministers of government may say about it, power is the greatest of all pleasures. It seems to me that only love can beat it, and love is a happy illness that can’t be picked up as easily as a Ministry. [Stendhal “de l’Amour,” 1822]

To have power is simply to be able to do something.  Or, as I learned from Robert Dahl, Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale (now emeritus), “A has power over B insofar as A can get B to do what B would not otherwise do.”  Dahl has been a mentor of mine in political science and in life.

And don’t you just adore the Stendhal quotation?


About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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