By college, I understand as a school or a university. How to make sense of the College in the term 'Electoral College'?


2 Answers 2


Etymologically, a 'college' is a group of people 'chosen together' to form a corporate body—the same Latin terms for with and choose lie behind 'colleague'. Thus we have a 'college' of electors, persons chosen to be electors; in the Roman Catholic Church a 'college' of cardinals, persons chosen to be bishops of the first order; and in Great Britain the Royal 'College' of Physicians, persons chosen to be members of the body governing medical practice.

It was only with the rise of the English universities of Oxford and Cambridge, which are federations of 'colleges' of persons chosen to receive learned degrees, that the word 'college' came to denote primarily an educational institution.

  • 5
    It sounds very close in meaning to 'collage'. Is that just a coincidence?
    – Masked Man
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 10:40
  • 7
    @MaskedMan Pure coincidence. Collage is French, from Greek kolla, "glue". Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 11:39
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    And "décollage" which is French for takeoff (as related to aircraft). So in France, the aircraft unglue, or unstick themselves from the runway :) Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 19:14
  • This answer applies to any language that use derivatives of collegia
    – Braiam
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 13:38
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    In your head you can use the term "Electoral Colleagues" and maybe come closer to understanding what it meant at the time.
    – Nanban Jim
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 17:40

The first (earliest) meaning of "College" in the OED (the Oxford English Dictionary) is " 1. An organized society of persons performing certain common functions and possessing special rights and privileges; a body of colleagues, a guild, fellowship, association".

This meaning is now obsolete except in a few specific cases, eg the College of Cardinals (who elect the Pope) and the Electoral College in the USA. Otherwise it has been ousted by the later meaning that you mention.

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