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Word of the Week: ‘prorogue’


We take a closer look at the words and phrases that are trending online and in the media. This week: ‘prorogue’.

Two Brexit-based Word of the Weeks in a row? These are extraordinary times. This week we get the lowdown on one particular word that’s been lingering around parliament like a perpetual smell. No, it’s not ‘backstop’ – we did that months ago. It’s ‘prorogue’. 

British prime minister Boris Johnson officially suspended parliament for a full five weeks on Monday night – the longest prorogation since 1945. 

And since ‘define prorogue parliament’ is a breakout search on Google Trends, our wordsmiths thought they’d better step up to the plate and do just that.

What is the meaning of ‘prorogue’?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, to ‘prorogue’ means to “stop the activities of parliament for a period of time without dissolving it”. 

It is essentially a technical way of ‘putting something off’ – though in this case, it’s a little more significant than your laundry or your tax return.

The Urban Dictionary shares some cracking definitions, our favourites including “to promote the Machiavellian ambitions of a rogue” (taking the construction of ‘pro-’ and ‘rogue’ very literally) and “a politically astute move that can be accomplished when there is no real opposition and the general public just wants to get on with life”.

In official, slightly more straight terms, ‘prorogue’ refers to: “the formal end of a parliamentary session. Parliament stands ‘prorogued’ between the end of one session and the state opening of parliament which marks the beginning of a new session.” 

Etymology of ‘prorogue’

‘Prorogue’ has its roots in the Latin, ‘prōrogāre’. The combination of ‘pro’ and ‘rigare’ once meant to “ask publicly” but it gained the more legislative, contemporary sense of “to discontinue temporarily” in the 15th century.

By the 19th century, ‘prorogation’ was actually an occasion marked by ceremony. According to Parliament UK, in 1815 the Prince Regent rode into parliament to close sessions prior to prorogation “in a coach with a cavalry escort. He arrived to a cannon salute while peers wore their ceremonial red robes and ladies looked on wearing gowns and jewels”. 

It’s fair to say things have changed a tad. It’s hard to imagine such grandeur, pomp and ceremony at parliament today, especially if recent pictures of life at the House of Commons – and certain senior politicians – are anything to go by. 

Roisin McCormack