sedativo

The July/August 2011 issue of The Atlantic includes a short article about how people behave in the media; in “The manic will be televised,” Walter Kirn wrote: “Attention-deficit disorder… responds to stimulants, not sedatives.” The word sedativo/sedative comes from the past participle of Latin sedare, of which Lewis and Short’s A Latin Dictionary said: “(orig. to cause to sit, to seat; hence, of inanimate or abstract objects), to allay, settle, still, calm, assuage, appease, quiet, check, end, stop, stay, etc.” The causative sedare corresponded to the basic Latin verb sedere, which meant the same as its native English cognate sit. Etymologically, then, a sedativo/sedative is something that “sits you down” when you’re riled up. Spanish also says sedante, which goes back to the present rather than the past participle of Latin sedare. From Latin sedare we have the verb sedar/sedate.

English once had a system of causative verbs, but it has largely disappeared from the language. The few causative verbs that remain confuse even many native English speakers. Raise, for example, means ‘to cause to rise,’ but you’ll hear people say “He raised up” instead of “He rose up.” And lay, which properly means ‘to cause to lie [down],’ has now almost completely usurped the territory of lie, thanks in large part to the fact that the past tense of lie happens to be lay.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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