Pole and Poll

Commonly Confused Words

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A pair of colorful poles near the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany. (Izzet Keribar/Getty Images)

The words pole and poll are homophones: they sound alike but have different meanings.

Definitions

The noun pole refers to a long staff (for example, "fiberglass pole" or "totem pole") or to either extremity of an axis of a sphere ("South Pole"). When capitalized, Pole may refer to a native of Poland or to a person of Polish descent. As a verb, pole means to move or push with the aid of a pole.

The noun poll most often refers to the casting of votes in an election or a survey of public opinion.

Similarly, the verb poll means to record votes or to ask questions in a survey.

Examples

  • "A red-and-white striped barber pole was attached inconspicuously to the front of the Antioch Pentecostal."
    (Donald Barthelme, "A City of Churches." The New Yorker, 1960)
     
  • The telephone line that runs across the lake is suspended by buoys rather than poles.
  • No one runs for public office today without relying on opinion polls.
     
  • "In a Pittsburgh Press poll of its readers, 73,238 were found to believe Cook had discovered the North Pole; only 2,814 believed Peary had done so."
    (Bruce Henderson, True North: Peary, Cook, and the Race to the Pole. Norton, 2005)
     
  • "The tribal council created committees of tribal members in each district to poll their neighbors on termination. Throughout the spring, the council and the committees worked to create a questionnaire that would generate a more accurate interpretation of tribal members' opinions. In May the council mailed out roughly two thousand opinion polls to all adult members of the tribe, including those who resided off the reservation."
    (Laurie Arnold, Bartering With the Bones of Their Dead.  University of Washington Press, 2012)
     

    Idiom Alert

    The expression straw poll refers to an unofficial vote, one that's often used to gauge public opinion on a particular issue.
    "The presidential campaign was on everyone's mind; attendees voted in a straw poll by dropping corn kernels in Mason jars with photos of the candidates."
    (Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "Antonin Scalia Death Puts Swing State Republicans on Spot." The New York Times, February 19, 2016)
     

    Practice

    (a) The window cleaner used a brush attached to a 30-foot-long aluminum _____.

    (b)  A recent ____ showed that climate change is one of the top four issues for voters.

    Answers to Practice Exercises

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

    200 Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs

    Answers to Practice Exercises: Pole and Poll

    (a) The window cleaner used a brush attached to a 30-foot-long aluminum pole.

    (b) A recent poll showed that climate change is one of the top four issues for voters.

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words