The Romans could say se, but they also said sed

The last few posts, starting with the one about gossip, have dealt with words descended from the Indo-European root *s(w)e-, which served as a base for the Latin (and therefore also Spanish) third-person reflexive pronoun se. In addition, Latin used se as a prefix to convey the notion of ‘selfhood’ in the sense of ‘apartness,’ as we saw with borrowed words like separar/separate, segregar/segregate, and seguro/secure.

In addition to se, the Romans had the longer form sed, which was their normal word for ‘but.’ Compare the way English says, for example, “The company gave a raise to everyone but him,” where the but indicates the separation and apartness of the poor guy who didn’t get a raise. Or take a sentence like “But for the last-minute approval of a loan, she wouldn’t have been able to buy the new equipment she needed.” It means that if we separate out or set aside that last-minute loan approval, the woman wouldn’t have been able to buy her equipment.

Most people would probably be surprised if a word as common as but disappeared from their language, but that was the fate of Latin sed. Some of the Romance languages replaced it with a word that originally meant ‘more’: French and Portuguese have mais, and Spanish mas (though pero has become more common). But if sed disappeared from Latin, it  survives in one word that we’ve borrowed. The familiar Spanish verb ir ‘to go’ had as its predecessor Latin ire, from whose past participle came the noun itio, with stem ition-, which meant ‘a going, walking, traveling.’ The Romans combined sed with that word to create seditio, with stem sedition-, which was literally ‘a going apart.’ As the word was actually used, it meant ‘an insurrectionary separation (political or military); dissension, civil discord, insurrection, mutiny.’ Of course we’ve come to call that sedición/sedition.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

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If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.
©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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