I’ve encountered the word campaign so often later (generally preceded by presidential), and then, last week, I found myself camping for a few days. And I wondered: camp/campaign: are they related somehow? And how was it that the word campaign is so similar to words for countryside like campagna (Italian) campagne (French, and no Autocorrect, I didn’t mean champagne)? An investigation was in order, so down the etymology rabbit hole I went…
And it all starts with a field. Specifically, the Latin word for field: campus. The word campaign was originally only used in a military sense, meaning a particular military enterprise, or the actions of an army during a particular period in a particular place. The word comes from the practice of European armies moving from the shelter of a town or a castle during the winter, into an open field during the summer.
The noun camp then, developed naturally, meaning the temporary lodgings of an army on such a field. Many modern words still spring from this military sense of the word campaign. To decamp, as in to leave a place suddenly and secretly, literally means to leave a camp. To scamper, to run away quickly, comes from the old North French escamper, meaning to run away from the battlefield. Even the word champion is related to campus, coming from the Latin campio, meaning fighter in the field.
And of course today we still refer to the field of battle, or battlefield, even though very few battles take place in fields nowadays. It would be too hard on the cows.
And I’m sure you’ve already noticed that we still use campus today to refer to a college’s grounds. Now who says interesting things don’t happen in fields?