On the centenary of the 1918 suffrage act, what does suffrage actually mean?

Word of the week: 100 years ago, the vote was extended to some women. But how did the “suffragettes” get their name?

The archaic sounding “suffrage” has risen energetically from its lexical slumbers this week, as it’s the centenary of the extension of voting rights to (some) women in Britain. Originally, “suffrage” meant prayers. But what is directed at God may as well be directed at earthly powers, so from the 1500s it came to mean an assenting vote or opinion, and then any kind of vote, and then a group’s collective vote.

From the early 19th century, “suffragists” in Britain and the US wanted to extend democratic rights to excluded groups. In 1897 the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies was formed in the UK, and its adherents were all “suffragists”. Not until 1906 was the alternative term “suffragette” coined – in the Daily Mail, and intended as a term of abuse, replacing “-ist” ...