According to Merriam-Webster, a definition of Congress is "1a: the act or action of coming together and meeting". The first known use of the word is "1528, in the meaning defined at sense 1a" and the etymology of the word is as follows:

Latin congressus, from congredi to come together, from com- + gradi to go

The first use of the word "Congress" referred to "The act or action of coming together or meeting" while the current use of the word seems to be preferential towards the idea that "Congress" is an "entity" rather than an "action" between two parties such as "The House Of Representatives" and the "Senate" which would in effect form the "Congress".

My question is, at the time of its use within the Constitution of The United States Of America would the word "Congress" be correctly defined if it alluded to anything other than a "meeting" or "the action of meeting"?

It is understood that there are multiple definitions for the term "congress", for the purpose of this post I am looking for the definition that was originally intended when written within the Constitution and if possible some supporting evidence such as context clues, other uses of the word during that time period, sentence structuring, or other evidence. One such example of a definition is the act of meeting where as later definitions seem to point to the word "congress" referring to an entity rather than an action.

  • Strange things happen to words when they are given a Capital letter. Search for yourself at books.google.com/ngrams (type in Congress,congress ) – Hugh Mar 12 at 16:01
  • 1
    What is the first line of the Declaration of Independence? – Hot Licks Mar 12 at 16:21
  • 2
    Your comment skillfully alluded to an ironic error in spelling that had previously eluded discovery! Thank you @jim I will leave it up for the sake of entertainment – People Call Me Adam Mar 12 at 16:42
  • @Hugh I will have to look into this. It is unfortunate that this question was treated so harshly when the content of it's message seemed to far outweigh the poorness of it's semantic composition. – People Call Me Adam Mar 12 at 16:47

The New World of Words (despite its name) had an edition published in 1706 with these definitions:

Congress, a coming together, Meeting, or Rencounter; an Encount'ring: It is now generally taken for the Assembly, or Meeting together of the Deputies, or Plenipotentiaries of several Princes, to Treat about a Peace, or any other important Affair.

Congress or Congers, a particular Society of Book-sellers, who put in Joynt Stocks for the Buying and Printing of Copies, and Trading for their common Advantage.

The first definition was also in the 1678 edition (found via OED.com):

Congress, is now generally taken for the Assembly or Meeting together of the Deputies, or Plenipotentiaries of several Princes, to treat about a Peace, or any other grand Affair.

Compare with the 1671 edition.

Although this may not be the earliest example, it's well before any US Congress, which was an idea people were thinking about as far back as 1765.

  • this is some interesting information! It really brings up some questions. – People Call Me Adam Mar 12 at 18:12

It seems that your question is about the etymology of the word congress, and specifically was it a verb or a noun denoting an action (the act of meeting) until the nascent USA used it as a noun (a body that meets), and a proper noun at that.

According to this site it had the sense of a meeting of individuals from c. 1520 and a a representative body since 1670. https://www.etymonline.com/word/congress

Also, the dictionary you cite has a body that meets as definition 2.

  • Thank you, there are indeed multiple definitions of the word congress, though the intent of the question was to determine if the definition of the word "Congress" (as used in the Constitution at the time it was originally written) would be correctly defined ("contextually"?) If it were to refer to anything other than the ACT of meeting. – People Call Me Adam Mar 12 at 16:21
  • @PeopleCallMeAdam - Fer cryin' out loud! Have you never heard of the Continental Congress??? – Hot Licks Mar 12 at 23:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.