Surveying or surveilling

My fellow writer Richard Kefford and I have challenged ourselves – or each other, I’m not sure which, to tackle a list of blog subjects we randomly found on the net… there were seventy-three different types of blog suggestions, so we are having a go at doing all seventy-three. Richard is attacking the list at random – at least he was until we hit on the idea of producing a book of our blogs; One hundred and forty six blogs might be a little long – so we are thinking of producing three volumes,. I started at number 1 on the list and worked my way through and I am now at number twenty-four, surveys and polls.

I must admit I am a bit stumped; how interesting would a survey that I might conduct be to anyone? I got to thinking about surveys, and began to ponder on the word… sometimes pronounced sur-vey, sometimes more like s’vey, depending on whether it’s a noun or a verb. I guess that it might come via French (from Latin) sur meaning over or above and veillée  which means vigil or watch over something – my rough explanation! There are words which come from it – verbs meaning to look at something, and verbs meaning specifically to measure and look at something, and the noun which is the product of the measuring and looking. Then there is surveillance, definitely all about watching and looking! So am I right? 

So, survey comes from Middle English, surveyen which in turn comes from from Old French sourveoir –  as I thought from  sur – over, and veoir to see . It was certainly around and about at the turn of the fifteenth century meaning to consider or think about or ponder, and then it shifted to include to guard or watch over, and then on to inspect and check and look at in detail. By the middle of the sixteenth century it began to take on the meaning of measuring and recording information about a piece of land.

Surveillance, however – as I understand it, does not come from the same thing at all, even though it sounds as if it should. It’s a loan word from French but it comes from that Latin vigilare meaning to watch over – and watching over in the French Revolutionary sense  were les Comités de Surveillance – surveillance committees. It’s a concept we are very familiar with now, with CCTV on every corner.

I guess on social media if you mention survey, most people would think of a list of questions which could be about anything from favourite books to favourite ice-cream! Some give choices for answers and then give results as a percentage, some are open for any answers. So here is a little survey, just a little one:

  1. Dickens, Austen or a Brontë?
  2. Poirot, Campion or Tommy and Tuppence Beresford?
  3. Holden Caulfield, Yossarian or Jay Gatsby?
  4. The Cherry Orchard,  The Government Inspector or Boris Gudunov?
  5. Girl With a Pearl Earring, or A Secret History or The Handmaid’s Tale?
  6. The Hunger Games, Northern Lights (The Golden Compass) or Artemis Fowl?
  7. Dracula, Frankenstein or The Triffids
  8. Macbeth, Hamlet or Richard III
  9. Dylan Thomas, R.S. Thomas or Edward Thomas
  10. Carol Ann Duffy, Gillian Clarke or Jackie Kay

… and more on surveillance:

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