Printable Version
Pronunciation: si-kwes-têr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, Noun

Meaning: 1. To separate and isolate, as to sequester a jury. 2. (Law) To take temporary possession of something as a security against legal claims, as to sequester a property until the suit has been decided. 3. (Law) The person or agency with whom a party to a suit sequesters something.

Notes: Today's Good Word is being used in a peculiar way today in Washington. The word was originally used in the sense of "delayed spending cuts". Sequester is currently being applied to that part of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) that was delayed until March 1, and would become effective unless Congress passes a budget before that time. The BCA would involve a draconian $86 billion across-the-board cut in spending this year, increasing every year until $1.2 trillion is reached in 2021. This spending cut is what the word bizarrely refers to today. The noun from this verb, sequestration, has become a synonym of sequester.

In Play: Your children would have to be attending a pretty good school to justify your telling them: "Well, do your father and I have to sequester your bike until the grass gets mowed?" You had better save today's Good Word for legal situations: "The jury was sequestered because the accused was caught winking at its members."

Word History: Today's Good word comes from Late Latin sequestrare "to place in safekeeping" via French sequestrer. Sequestrare is apparently based on Latin sequester "trustee, mediator", which seems to have had something to do with sequi "to follow". If so, it is clearly related to sequela "follower", which English copied as sequel. Sequi clearly is behind secundus "following, next, second", in fact, English also copied second from this word. The semantic sequence (another one!) seems to have been: "follow" > "second" > "second party" > "trustee, mediator". Sect is another word explicable by the same root that went into the making of sequi. It is, after all, a group of followers. (We can no longer sequester our gratitude to Florence Shuster for suggesting this very topical [for 2013] Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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