The prefix se-

Yesterday’s post about gossip pointed out that the Indo-European root *s(w)e-, the ancestor of the Latin third-person reflexive pronoun se ‘oneself’ (and therefore of Spanish se), also produced the native English cognate self. If we conceive of the self as ‘an entity that stands apart from others,’ we are following in the thoughts of the Romans. They used se not only as a reflexive pronoun (which they sometimes emphasized as the doubled-up sese), but also as the first element in various compounds, where it conveyed the notions ‘apart from, separate from, away from, different from.’ Spanish and English have borrowed several of those Latin compounds, including separar/separate itself.

Another is seleccionar/select, literally ‘to gather apart.’ English secede is ‘to go apart.’ The not-so-common English secern means etymologically ‘to sift out,’ but the normal sense of the verb is, like that of its relative discernir/discern, ‘to distinguish by thought.’ The verb secern came from Latin secernere ‘to put apart,’ whose past participle secretus we recognize as the source of the secreto/secret that someone purposely ‘keeps apart’ from others.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: segregar « Spanish-English Word Connections

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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