Sequestration–The Latin Word De Jour


For the last few months we have been hearing a good bit about the threat of a looming sequestration that both political parties formerly approved but presently fear.  President Obama has just referred to sequestration as a meat cleaver, that no one should wield. What is this dreaded sequestration?  And more importantly for readers of this blog—what is its Latin roots?


Let’s start with the Latin.  The Latin word sequestrum means a deposit, and the word sequester (a noun) means either a depositary or the person (a trustee) who holds a deposit between two parties in dispute, until the dispute is settled.  Finally there is a late Latin verb sequestare, which means to put in the hands of a trustee or into a depositary.


So that’s the Latin.  Now we can see how our English words came about…  Our word sequester is a verb, though it is spelled exactly like the Latin noun.  Our English verb sequester has a few connotations:


  1. To “deposit” yourself or another to a place of peace and solitude.  Monks, for example, lead a sequestered life.
  2. To simply withdraw or separate as in the sentence, He sequestered himself from the rest of the party and went downstairs to the basement alone.
  3. In legal matters, it can mean that we “withdraw” or “separate” someone’s property or money for a period of time, often until legal claims are satisfied.

In our current political and economic debate, we are using the words sequester and sequestration in sense 3, above.  Congress previously passed a bill that specified that huge sums of money (that normally would be spent) would be sequestered (held in “deposit”or “cut”) and not be spent.  ABC news describes it this way:  “The dreaded “sequester” amounts to across-the-board budget cuts that will strike in March barring an agreement on deficit reduction.”  This form of sequestration is practically speaking a spending freeze – a freeze that is binding until congress passes a budget.   Once congress passes a budget, the legal issue will be satisfied and the sequestration (spending freeze) will be lifted—the sequestration will be sequestered.


My prediction: a budget will be passed (even if after a short period in which sequestration kicks in).  Neither party wants sequestration, but both will play the issue to their best advantage during another stretch of political theater.   While this lamentable, we do get to play with words and learn some Latin.





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