When ancient Greek politicians seemed to be gaining too much power, citizens could vote to make them leave town for five or ten years.

The practice was called ostracism /Os-truh-sizm/. It worked something like the way contestants on Survivor are eliminated.

The word comes from Greek ostracon, the material on which voters would write the name of the man they wanted to ostracize: a potsherd, piece of tile, limestone, or even bone.

A different kind of ostracism is alive and well in the twenty-first century.

Nowadays, ostracized people are not excluded by being sent away from their homes, but by being subjected to unspoken social exclusion, or specific legal arrangements that set them apart from mainstream society.

Sometimes, individuals or groups ostracize themselves, clinging to a culture of behavior or belief in conflict with mainstream society.

Here are some headlines that illustrate contemporary uses of the word ostracize.

Will the GOP embrace immigration reform or continue to ostracize key voters?

Politicians, citizens ostracize American Muslims under guise of national security

Gay ‘Hero’ Security Guard Says Church Ostracized Her

Settlers ostracize neighbors who support Gaza pullout

Ostracized Teen Overcomes Teasing in Coming of Age Comedy ‘Spork’

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