Why We Say #26: ‘Tis the Season or here’s to muddying meanings
Between putting our votes in and putting up the mistletoe there are words we banter around that no longer mean what they once meant.
Season: from the Middle English “seson”, which originally referred to spring, the time for sowing. “Season” is now extended to four times of year: spring, summer, fall, and winter. I actually live in an area that recognizes a fifth season, one that is situated between the last snows of winter and the downpours of spring. We call it “Mud.”
Transitioning from seasons to secrets:
Secretary: a good secretary can keep a secret, and there were a good many secrets floating this last election season. Maybe the mud season applies to election years as well. Never mind…. However, the word “secretary” is derived from “secrets” because appropriately enough, a secretary dealt with his or her employer’s private papers, which no doubt contained some clandestine concerns.
Moving from secrets to secret agendas:
Senate: in Roman times the senate was comprised of one hundred men who tended to be on the elder side of life having accrued a wealth of experience and wisdom. It makes sense then that senate is derived from “senis,” not to be confused with “senile,” of course not.
And that brings us to another politically oriented term:
Shake hands: skaking hands signals agreement, courtesy, acknowledgement, and friendship. Originally it was a precaution, making sure that the other person wasn’t reaching for his sword with his other hand. Wait, wasn’t Caesar in the process of shaking hands with members of his Senate when he was stabbed? So much for trust and knowing what the right hand and the left hand are doing.
This moves us to consider–
Showing one’s true colors: to avoid suspicion pirates would raise up the colors of a friendly nation and once they pulled up alongside a ship they decided to plunder, they would raise their true colors of their pirate ways. Hmm, the political connection seems to be still afloat.
Speaking of evil:
Sinister: it’s only been in recent years that being a lefty is considered somewhat of a notable distinction. Back in the Roman days (difficult leaving our ancient roots), the left side was considered unlucky and even “sinister.” Anything menacing or wrong would be designated as sinister. In fact, the idea of left being wrong (and not right) is found in other languages such as the French’s “gauche” attached to the idea of committing a gaffe or error.
That leads us to:
Snooper: from the Dutch verb “snoopen” referring to the practice of eating sweets without getting caught, so it makes sense to noun this verb into a snooper or snoop.
This makes me wonder if a sinister senate secretary is willing to show his or her true colors when caught out as a snoop. Watch out if the offer to shake hands is mentioned as as an acknowledgment of the season of goodwill and glad tidings. See–mud still applies.