I’m often asked what “policy” really means, how it is defined.

The answer is not easy because “policy” is one of those words that confuses. I’ve read hundreds of definitions. Not one seems to catch the reality of this important concept. After all, government policy can take away liberty, property and rights as well as protect them. Government policy affects everyday life in ways big and small.

“Policy” comes from the ancient Greek politikos (πολιτικός) denoting citizen, and giving rise to polis, the city. Latin adopted the Greek to form policia (citizenship). The family of English words from this root include: policy; politic; polity; and police.

Other poli– words have completely different meaning and spring from the Latin politus (polished or smoothed): polite, polish.

The only other poli– words in English arise from the Greek polios meaning grey, and are medical terms describing ailments of grey matter (the brain and marrow) including polio or poliomyelitis.

My preferred meaning of policy? Frameworks for making decisions about public issues and public governance.