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seance

Printable Version
Pronunciation: say-ahns Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A sitting at which people try to contact the dead via a medium or Ouija board. 2. A group assembled for discussion, an administrative meeting. 3. (Archaic) Any sitting, like a séance royale "royal audience".

Notes: Here is a word referring to a formal consultation with the dead which has a couple more meanings in its back pocket. It is a lexical orphan because it can't quite shake off its left-over French fragrance. You may put a cocked French beret on the E in this word or not: séance. I rather like it, as does my spellchecker.

In Play: Although in French this word may refer to a movie screening, in English it far more often refers to a mystical sitting: "The silence around the table intensified as the medium leading the sance time after time failed to contact the dead." An ambiguous way to combine the two meanings is: "You don't need to resort to a sance to talk with the dead at our office meetings."

Word History: Today's Good Word was taken from French séance "a sitting", from seoir "to sit". Seoir is the remains of Latin sedere "to sit", which Latin inherited from PIE root sed-/sod- "to sit", origin also of English sit, set, sat, and seat. Sed-/sod- is at the root of thousands of words in the IE languages. Hundreds of them appear in Latin alone. English borrowed session, sedate, sedative and dozens more. The same PIE word went into the making of Welsh sedd "seat", Russian sidet' "to sit", German sitzen "to sit", Lithuanian sėdėti "to sit", Irish sui "sitting", Greek hedra "seat, chair", and Sanskrit Upanishad "philosophical treatise", from upa "under, near" + ni- "down" + sidati "sits". The sense of this word comes from students sitting at the feet of their teachers while listening to their philosophical treatises. (Heartfelt gratitude is due Susan Maynard, who saw the fun in today's lonely Good Word and thought we all might enjoy it.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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