Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Have a seat


The past participle of a Latin verb meaning to sit has influenced several English words. I refer to the letter sequence -sess-.

Assess contains word parts that literally mean “to sit by.” The general meaning is to settle, determine, or fix the amount to be paid by a person or community or by each member of a community.

Obsess has Latin parts that mean “to sit beside or in front of.” It means to be excessively preoccupied; to worry obsessively. Originally, it was said of an evil spirit that tormented one from without.

Possess shakes out as “to sit in domination.” It means to own, to have, or gain ownership of. Centuries ago, it was said of a demon dominating one from within.

Sessile parses as “sitting down, stunted.” With plants, it means having no footstalk or connecting neck.

Session comes straight from the Latin meaning “to sit.” It designates a number of people coming together for a conference, assembly, transaction, legal proceeding, etc. Originally, the meeting began when everyone was seated.

Supersession means “to sit above.” It refers to the setting aside, abrogation, or annulment of a rule, law, authority, condition, etc., or the removal of a person from office.


SIDEBAR: Sitting Bull


Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition


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