Thursday, April 23, 2020

Language Of Confusion: Take Your Seats, Part VI

Finally! The last part! There are a lot of words that come from the Proto Indo European sed-, to sit. And if you thought last week’s was weird, wait until you see these.

Nest comes from the Old English nest, which means (hold your hats) nest. That’s from the Proto Germanic nistaz, which is from the Proto Indo European nizdo-. How is that from sed-, you ask? Quit interrupting and I’ll tell you: nizdo- is thought to be a combination of ni, which means down, and sed-, making this word to sit down. Which actually makes sense!

Then there’s nick. Not the name, like a nick in something, or even nick as in steal (which is thought to be slang). A nick is a groove in something, which showed up in the mid fifteenth century and is thought to be from the French word niche. Which, you know, is where niche comes from. It showed up in English in the early seventeenth century, meaning niche but also meaning a kennel, like for a dog. It’s thought to be from the Italian nicchia, which means niche so that’s a safe bet, and there’s some debate about that word’s origin. It might be from nicchio, a word for seashell, from the classical Latin mitululs, mussel (no explanation on why m became n, though), but others think it’s from the Old French nichier, to nestle, from the Gallo Roman nidicare, from the classical Latin nidus, nest, and that word is from nizdo- again. But although that makes sense, it’s really only a guess.

Have you ever heard of the prefix piezo-? Well, I have. It means pressure, and yes, it’s a sed- word, and it comes from the Greek piezein, which means to press. That word is from the Proto Indo European pisedyo-, to sit upon, with the pi meaning on (it’s actually where the prefix epi- comes from) and the rest from sed-. Sitting upon something puts pressure on it! And that’s not the only word forming element from sed-. There’s also -hedron, the geometric term. It’s from the Greek hedra, which means the face of a “geometric solid”, but also means seat or chair. And that’s also from sed-.

And now we can come back to things we sit on and look at chair, which yes, comes from the same word as seat. It showed up in the early thirteenth century as chaere, from the Old French chaiere, chair, from the classical Latin cathedra, seat. And yes, that’s where cathedral comes from, too. It showed up in English in the sixteenth century as a kind of translation of the Late Latin phrase ecclesia cathedralis, “church of a bishop’s seat”. A cathedral is where a bishop sits! I can’t stand it. Anyway, cathedra is from the Greek kathedra, a chair, a combination of kata, down (the origin of the prefix cata-) and hedra, which we just looked at. Funny how these come together.

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. I guess I'm not surprised that something as basic as sitting evolved so many words over time.


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