*sekw- (part i)

What could the World Cup possibly have in common with the conflict raging on in Iraq? Screens have been streaming soccer and headlines have been screaming sectarian, and both words, unlikely as their connection may seem, ultimately go back to the Proto-Indo-European root *sekw

Consequential Social Sects

In soccer, we saw university slang at work on association. If we it strip all back, we’re left with socius, a Latin word meaning “companion,” “ally,” and most literally, as we will see, “follower.” SocietySocial? I think you can see how they follow. And “follow” indeed, for behind this socius is what is also behind Latin’s sequi, a verb meaning “to follow.”

A blockbuster sequel, a dire consequence, the subsequent effects, an unusual sequence of events–all of these follow from Latin’s verb for “follow.”

Another form of the verbs–secutus–sticks around in Engliish’s consecutive, execute, persecute, and prosecute, all featuring prefixes and metaphors hard at work. Obsequious, too, features the root, from the Latin for “to comply.”  Sequester started out as a “trustee,” “agent” or “go-between,” particularly in financial senses. And from the root’s French fashioning, we get pursuepursuitsue, and suit–both what you might wear and what you might file in court.

From an earlier form of this secutus Latin also had secta, a “path” (something followed), “method,” “school of thought,” and “way of life,” inter alia. Hence, a sect. During the English Commonwealth in the mid-1600s, Presbyterians and Independents were referred to as “sectarians” based on their competing notions of Puritan church organization, which is when we first see the word sectarian. This was the point in every history classroom where you either got really, really into English history or really, really lost by all the power changes (me).

But perhaps I should have first mentioned second, from the Latin secundus, a very productive word meaning “following,” “next,” and “favorable.” No, in English, we don’t say twoth, we say second. Such a borrowing might seem jarring, but this is an intrinsic quality of English–of language. Indeed, this intrinsic is from Latin’s intrinsecus, meaning “on the inside,” joins intra- (“within”) and secus, “alongside.” Its counterpart, of course, is extrinsic, from extrinsecus, “on the outside.” It features exter (think extra, “outward,” “outside”).

Alas, those glittery, scintillating sequins are not related. Those sequins are from French’s rendering of the Italian zecchini, a medieval Venetian gold coin, or ducat. It comes from Italian’s zecca, “mint,” in turn from the Arabic sekkah, a “die for coining.” Such a die is a metal rod that strikes one of the faces of a coin.


Socioussequisectasecundus–all of these display Proto-Indo-European’s *sekw- at work. A warning: Technical grammar stuff is ahead, but it may give you a refresher on why words take different forms.

Recall that Proto-Indo-European was a very inflected language. Inflected? Stems took on endings to change words’ meanings and functions. It’s very simplified now in English, but we still see it in I sing vs. he sings. That s is important: it signals a particular meaning and function, specifically respect to person, number, and tense.

Words also changed their vowels to change meaning and function: I sing, I sang, I have sung. English irregular verbs preserve this once very active system of vowel change called ablaut. *Sekw- changed its vowel and added a suffix to become *sokw-yo. And the core vowel of Proto-Indo-European, scholars have proposed, was the short e, and this change from e to o in its grammar was an essential one.

We’ll have to follow up with *sekw-, though, for it has produced some other surprising derivates.

m ∫ r ∫


6 thoughts on “*sekw- (part i)

  1. Some etymology dictionaries suggest the word “scarlet” is derived from PIE *sekw- whilst others classify its etymology as ‘unknown’.

    The Online Etymology Dictionary says it’s from a shortened form of Old French escarlate from Medieval Latin scarlatum and ultimately from Late Latin sigillatus “clothes and cloth decorated with small symbols or figures,” literally “sealed,” past participle of sigillare, from the root of sign (n.).

    On the other hand, some dictionaries say its probably ultimately Persian (rather than Latin) Persian سقرلات (saqirlat, “a kind of rich cloth”), a variant of Arabic سقلات (siqillat, “scarlet cloth, rich cloth”), of unknown origin.


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