Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Suicide

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Suicide

Article excerpt

There was a marvellous man in Shakespeare's day known as John Smyth the Sebaptist. 'In an act so deeply shocking as to be denied by Baptist historians for two and a half centuries,' Stephen Wright, the expert on separatist clergy wrote, 'he rebaptised first himself and then his followers, and set out his new views in The Character of the Beast (1610).' His former confederate Richard Bernard fired a counterblast in that year showing (to his own satisfaction) that 'the Church of England is Apostolicall, the Separation Schismaticall'.

Reading a word like sebaptist we take the prefix se- to indicate a reflexive act, a self-baptism, as we would if reading French or Spanish. But that is not how ancient Romans used se- . The learned Peter Jones tipped me off on this. In classical Latin, the prefix se- meant 'without' or 'apart': thus securus , 'secure', from se cura , 'without care'; separare , from se parare , 'to prepare apart' -- hence schismaticall separation.

Those 1970s characters who seduced a secretary 'led apart, or astray' (seducere ) the person concerned with business of theirs that was secretum 'a secret' (secernere , 'to separate' again). …

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