Printable Version
Pronunciation: ses Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. (Scotland, Ireland, India) A special tax or levy, such as the land tax in Scotland). 2. (Ireland) Luck.

Notes: This word is most widely used in the compounds cesspool and cesspit, the words that attracted the attention of the good Dr. Goodword. The two most recent meanings seem to have nothing to do with cesspools (unless you take that view of taxes).

In Play: If you would like, we could use this term in the US, for example: "The gas cess has risen in Pennsylvania to cover the cost of road maintenance." The second meaning is used almost exclusively in Ireland in the curse "bad cess to": "Bad cess to your whole clan!"

Word History: Today's Good Word is surely the victim of clipping, the random shortening of words. In the first sense, the origin is clearly assess. In the second, success might have been the victim. But neither of these explains the origin of the cess in cesspool or cesspit. The Oxford English Dictionary reports that from the 17th to the 19th centuries cess was used to refer to a bog or the peat in it. Some have suggested it was a borrowing from Italian cesso "privy, toilet" from Latin secessus "a hiding place, a deep recess". Another explanation is that cess is a clipping of English recess in the sense of "a hollow space" or abcess. All of these are pure speculations that await further evidence sufficient to sort them all out.

Dr. Goodword,

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