With respect to a circle, students of geometry learn that the line called the secante/secant is one that cuts across the circle in two places. The name isn’t arbitrary: the word is the present participle of the Latin verb secare ‘to cut,’ so the secant line is a ‘cutting’ line. As Latin evolved to Spanish, secare became segar, whose basic meaning is ‘to cut down ripe grain or other plants with a sickle, scythe, or other dedicated instrument; to reap, to harvest, to crop.’ The verb can also mean ‘to cut off something that sticks out,’ including, for someone unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end, a head. More generally segar is ‘to cut off or interrupt quickly or abruptly.’
Spanish segador is literally ‘someone or something that harvests,’ but the word has a specialized meaning in zoology, where it designates what English has similarly called a harvestman, though the term daddy-longlegs is more familiar to most English speakers. The creature in question is an invertebrate that people might at first glance take for a long-legged spider, and although it does have eight legs, its tiny body has only one section, unlike the two major sections (abdomen and cephalothorax) of a spider. The name segador/harvestman apparently comes from the resemblance of each of the little animal’s elongated, thin, conspicuously jointed legs to a scythe or sickle.
Before I cut off this post, I’d like to point out that English sickle, mentioned twice in the paragraphs above in conjunction with cutting grain or other plants, developed from Old English sicol. The Anglo-Saxons borrowed that word from Vulgar Latin sicila, a variant of the classical Latin secula that had the same root as secare ‘to cut’ and that meant ‘a sickle.’
© 2011 Steven Schwartzman