seed • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: 1. To plant seeds. 2. To stimulate or precipitate growth or development, as to seed a new business with startup capital. 3. To arrange competitors in a tournament so that weaker ones will be eliminated early on and the stronger ones will meet later in the competition.
Notes: A truly interesting semantic development is the term "seed" used in the language of sports (Meaning 3 above). It was first used in tennis and is based on the idea of laying out a tournament ladder by arranging slips of paper with the names of players on them the way seeds or seedlings are arranged in a garden: smaller plants up front, larger ones behind. This sense has nothing to do with the verb seat. Its past tense seeded is an accidental homonym because T between vowels is pronounced just like D in US English.
In Play: Using the verb in the sense of a precipitant of growth or other activity was popular back in the middle of the last century in this sense: "Scientists have tried to seed clouds with salt particles or silver iodide to induce them to release rain on drought-plagued land below." Today, however, sports fans are more likely to hear the word: "Bucknell was seeded 14 in the NCAA playoffs but surprised a more highly seeded team."
Word History: The English word seed comes to us from the verbal root se- "to sow" in Proto-Indo-European, the mother of most of the languages of Europe and India. In English we find seed and in German Saat. Russian and Latin added an -m suffix to produce semya, semeni in Russian and semen in Latin, imported whole into English to denote the seed of human and animal life. (We thank Peggy Nielsen for planting the seed in our heads that grew into today's Good Word.)
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