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I read that poll means also, in dialect, a person's head; that is the second meaning that NOAD gives to pool as noun.

Is there, nowadays, a dialect where the word as that meaning?
If such dialect exists, which one is it?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

The OED gives the following (irrelevant defs. and defs. concerning animals removed):

1a. The part of the head on which the hair grows; the head as characterized by the colour or state of the hair; the scalp of a person or animal.

Now arch. or regional.
Cf. the more general sense at 3a, with which this sometimes merges in later use.

2a. The prominent or visible part of a head in a crowd; (by extension) a person or individual in a number, list, etc. Usu. in phrases, as by (the) poll, per poll, †poll by poll: for each person, one by one, individually.

Cf. head n.1 7b.
Now hist. (but cf. poll tax n.). challenge to the polls: see challenge n. 3a.

3a. Used generally to denote the head of a person or (occas.) an animal.
Now literary or regional (chiefly Irish English).

1a has merged with 3a in recent years, and is cited to be primarily Irish English (unless specially used in literature). 2a is marked historical, except in certain phrases, so that's gone. I've never met an Irishman, but I'd venture to say that even there, it's not particularly common. Make of that what you will.

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In England there is a phrase "poll tax" which I believe refers precisely to this meaning. Poll meaning head is not so much a dialect as an archaic meaning. The common meaning of "poll" as survey can be thought of as referring to "counting heads".

When applied to sheep it generally means a breed that has no horns (Poll Merino). A polled animal (sheep or cow) has had its horns removed. I believe many people use these words without knowing the underlying (head) meaning.

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Mention is made above that "poll tax" is an archaic term in the UK, and yet it's not as much so in the United States. Poll taxes were used after the abolition of slavery -and as recently as the 1960s- to limit voting by black Americans, who were forced to pay a fee (per head) before they could exercise that right. Thus, from Wikipedia:

Initially, the United States Supreme Court, in the case of Breedlove v. Suttles, 302 U.S. 277 (1937), found the poll tax to be constitutional. The 24th Amendment, ratified in 1964, reflecting a political compromise, abolished the use of the poll tax (or any other tax) as a pre-condition in voting in Federal elections, but made no mention of poll taxes in state elections.

In the 1966 case of Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, the Supreme Court overruled its decision in Breedlove v. Suttles, and extended the prohibition of poll taxes to state elections, declaring that the imposition of a poll tax in state elections violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

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It's certainly not obsolete in the US -- especially with a new health-care that imposes a per-person "mandate" on each person. Often you'll hear "poll tax or head tax", but I always assumed it has something to do with poll meaning "voting place" (even though that's usually plural). – Malvolio Jun 4 '11 at 15:53
I don't think anyone on this page currently claims that poll tax is archaic in British English - has someone deleted or edited an answer? But either way, it's strongly tied to the 1980s and Margaret Thatcher, so hardly archaic. – Peter Taylor Jun 12 '12 at 11:06

Poll is a synonym for pate, or the top of the head. It's a generally-used term, and not confined to any particular dialect (I think).



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