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

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

5 Answers 5


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.


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.


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.

  • 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). Jun 4, 2011 at 15:53
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    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. Jun 12, 2012 at 11:06
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    What was officially the Community Charge was described by its opponents as the Poll Tax with reference to the unpopular tax levied from every individual which sparked the Peasants' Revolt in the 14th century. Sep 4, 2016 at 15:51

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).




Poll did not exactly mean "head" - it was more "scalp" - the skin upon which hair grows - or by synecdoche, the hair itself and only thence "head".


I. Senses relating to the head of a person or animal.

1.a. 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 archaic or regional.

α. c1300 St. Michael (Laud) 325 in C. Horstmann Early S.-Eng. Legendary (1887) 309 Þe deuel..wolde fain henten heom bi þe polle. [the devil would have liked to take him by the hair]

which apparently survives in the Lake District of England:

1963 G. H. Thomson Crocus Country xi. 75 Ethel added a drawing she made of Jim one cold day when he made his way there with Chaddy's red tam-o'-shanter pulled down on his red pow. [Chaddy's red beret pulled down on his red hair.]

1988 Jrnl. Lakeland Dial. Soc. No. 50. 18 He gat a gliff of a laal wisp of a thing wid a reed powe. [He got a little glimpse of a thing with red hair.

The idea of "scalp" = skin with abundant hair is also attested in

2c. The back of the head or neck; the nape, the scruff. Now regional (used chiefly of animals).

a1398 J. Trevisa tr. Bartholomaeus Anglicus De Proprietatibus Rerum (BL Add.) f. 299v The bole..is a prowde beste..and his moste strengþe is in þe nekke, in þe hornes, and in þe polle [L. ceruice]. [The bull is a proud beast,,, and the majority of his strength is in his neck, in his horns and in the nape of the neck]

This use seems to survive in Newfoundland:

1982 in Dict. Newfoundland Eng. 385/1 I lost my grip on the fox's poll and I told Esau for to hold [his tail].

In Irish English, there is apparently

3.a. Used generally to denote the head of a person or (occasionally) an animal. Now literary or regional (chiefly Irish English).Sometimes difficult to distinguish from the more specific sense at 1a.

1956 P. O'Brian Golden Ocean i. 17 A man from Dungannon..had the wig snatched from his poll in the hurly-burly.

1992 T. Enright tr. S. O'Crohan Day in our Life (1993) 35 The rain pelting down on your poll from morning to night.

In parts of Scotland and The Shetlands there is a similar use.

The word exists mainly as a part of other nouns: clodpoll, redpoll, blackpoll, giltpoll, poleaxe, pollard, pollywog, etc.

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