Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Word of the day: sept

It's not what you think.  Not even remotely.

I'm not referring to the Game of Thrones equivalent of a church (albeit it's the same spelling), nor any other meanings derived from septem, Latin for seven.


A sept is a division of a (large) family, especially a division of a clan.  It's particularly applicable to Scotland and Ireland, where there can be large groupings of people with identical surnames.

"In seventeenth-century Scotland Clan Campbell stood by itself as a separate race, almost a separate state, whose politics were determined by the whim of its ruling prince.  Built upon the ruins of many little septs, it excelled [sic] in numbers and wealth every other Highland clan."

From John Buchan's Montrose (1928, p213), a biography of James Graham (1612 - 1650), Marquess of Montrose.  He was a Scottish nobleman in the time of the English Civil War, who fought on the royalist side against the Covenanters.  This was a Scottish movement which replaced the Anglican hierarchy of bishops with an assembly of elders, from which arose the Presbytarian church.  Montrose was on the losing side in several ways, but his victories gave him a good reputation as a military strategist.


Sept appears to be a corruption of sect; State Papers from 1535 and 1537 refer respectively to secte then septe; possibly influenced by the Latin saeptum (fence, enclosure), which also gave rise to the anatomy term septum, for a partition between two cavities.  Sept is cognate (language derivation-equivalent) with the German equivalent, sippe.


bazza said...

Hi Stephen: This got me wondering why September is the ninth month so I Googled it and it seems that it was the seventh month.....and then they invented January and February. Doh!
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’
PS: For some reason I don't get notifications when you post.

S Simmonds said...

Yep. And I just heard (via History of the World in 100 Objects) that August was originally sextilis until renamed after Caesar Augustus. July would have been a usurpation for Julius Caesar, too. Probably used to be Quintilis. Let's check... yep. Not a hard pattern to deduce. I recall the Romans didn't originally count the first two months. They just waited out until winter ticked over to spring, then started in March.
Strongly recommend The History of English Podcast. The irregularities of English make much more sense now... (and you can learn and be entertained on the go).

Sorry for not blogging more... I have intentions to aim for weekly...