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Polls (סקרים) are an inseparable part of our lives. But what’s the origin of the word?

Most of us know the word ‘סקר’, or poll in English, from the countless rounds of elections here in Israel. But where did this word come from? Turns out the word has roots in ancient meaning

The word סקר isn't just about politics, though that's how we've come to know it. (Image credit: Knesset)

What do the words סקרים, סקרנים ולסיקור share? Well, the root of the word is סק״ר, coming to Hebrew from Aramaic during the times of the Talmud. In Aramaic, "סקר" relates to squinting or an inquisitive glance, and these meanings were taken from Aramaic and applied to Talmudic Hebrew.

When the lexicographer Yehuda Lieb Ben-Av was looking for a Hebrew translation for the German word Überblick for his Hebrew-German dictionary that was published in 1808 (the first of its kind), he used the words "one review" or ״סקירה אחת״ from the same Talmudic source.

Afterwards, he removed the word "one" from the definition, and thus the meaning of the word survey or "סקירה" transitioned from stare "מבט" according to Überblick’s German translation, which he ended up calling a general description of something. After the use of the word ״סקירה״ in that context was established, the verb סַקר came to mean to “give an overview (נתן סקירה)” in addition to the regular meaning of to take a look (בחן מבט).

During the British Mandate, English came to replace German as the leading influence on Hebrew, and the word “סקירה” shifted in its meaning toward “survey” in English. However, survey has several definitions that include the general description of something, just like Überblick’s German definition, but ״מחקר״ or ״חקירה״ are similar too.

People also used the word ״סקירה״ as its main meaning, survey, but a second, more rare, definition emerged in the 1930s - it featured in several poems from the Middle Ages where it was used as ״מבט״. This definition started to be used in Hebrew as an alternative to survey, but in the meaning of “חקירה” or investigation. That’s how we use the word “סקר” today, when we’re talking about a ground investigation (סקר קרקעית) or archeological investigation (סקר ארכיאולוגי). For the most part, when we’re talking about a ״סקר״, we mean a public opinion poll (סקר דעת קהל), and these days, a political poll (סקר מנדטים).

It is possible to find a preoccupation with public opinion polls in newspapers in the 1950s when polls conducted abroad were reported, but in Israel, polls appeared in Israel only when the word "סקר" appeared in it. In those years, Israeli journalists began to talk about media "coverage" (כיסוי תקשורתי), a direct translation of the English term.

It’s important to note that ״סקר״, and the verb ״לסקר״ were used in Hebrew for many years. Although the use of of the word “coverage” (כיסוי) wasn’t totally excluded from the modern language. In 1962, the advertising agent Eliezer Jorvin met the sociologist Rafael Gil, and offered him the opportunity to establish and manage “Dahaf”, Israel’s first polling institute.

Naturally, the institute offered its services to commercial companies that were clients of the advertising agency, but in November 1963, in an article about the institute in "Haaretz", it was written that "Gil intends to offer election research to parties, as the Knesset and municipal elections approach." Indeed, since the elections to the Sixth Knesset in 1965, polls have been an inseparable part of every election campaign in Israel.

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