Thursday, March 26, 2020

Language Of Confusion: Take Your Seats, Part II

Back again for another fun filled adventure. Did you know that sit comes from the Proto Indo European sed-, to sit? You should, because that’s what I told you last week. And it’s a part of so many words. Some of which make sense. Most of which… do not. Because etymology.

First let’s look at some that make sense, like sedentary. It showed up in the late sixteenth century from the Middle French sédentaire and classical Latin sedentarius, sitting. It’s from the word sedentem, sat, from the verb sedere, to sit, and that’s from the Proto Indo European sed-. There’s also sediment, which showed up in the mid sixteenth century, from the Middle French sédiment and classical Latin sedimentum, sediment or settling. And that too is from sedere. Because stuff settles to the bottom of liquids, it’s related to seat.

Okay, time to get a little weirder. Sedate showed up in the mid seventeenth century meaning calm, not meaning being sedated until 1945. It’s from the classical Latin sedatus, quiet. Now, that one’s from the verb sedare, with an a, meaning to quiet or settle. But that’s also from sedere, so it’s not too odd. They just apparently decided when they were speaking more metaphorically, to replace the e with the a.

Next, saddle. Hey, it’s something you sit on. It’s from the Old English sadol, saddle, from the Proto Germanic sathulaz. That’s from sed-, which makes this the first of these words to get to us by a non-Latin route, so there’s that.

You know what else is related? Sedan. And boy, is that one a story. It showed up in the early seventeenth century but back then it only meant a chair—a chair is a seat, so yeah, that tracks. It’s thought to be (although not definitely) from the Italian sede, which means seat, from the classical Latin sedes, which is also a seat, and is from sedere and sed-. As for why it means a car, well… there’s no real reason for that. It just showed up in American English in 1912 meaning a “closed automobile seating four or more”. No idea why they picked that particular word.

Finally this week, supersede. No, I’m not making this up. It showed up in the mid fifteenth century in Scottish, believe it or not. It’s from the Middle French superceder, delay or defer, and that’s from the classical Latin supersedere, which again means supersede but also literally means “to sit on top of.” The super- means above and the rest is from sedere, to sit. To sit above, to sit on top of, to delay. Well, it makes more sense than sedan.

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. Maybe sedan was meant to be an actual name but it ended up being a general term?

  2. I think originally a sedan was a chair royalty were carried in from place to place. Especially Chinese emperors. I remember seeing some really ornate ones when I lived in China.

  3. Wasn't sedan an older form of transport? I thought I read that someplace, but I could be mistaken.

  4. Saddle sounds so onomatopoeic to me!


Please validate me.