Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sistere & its Progeny

Sistere & its Progeny

The Latin word sistere means to cause to stand. More to the point, sistere has a pile of intriguing descendants. I’m saving my favorite for last.

Resist showed up in English in the 1300s. Resist is constructed of re-, meaning against + sistere. It means to hold out against.

Desist appeared in English in the 1400s & is constructed of de-, meaning off + sistere. Desist means to stand aside, leave off, or cease. I love the idea that its  third meaning suggests that the phrase “cease & desist” is redundant.

Assist also came to English in the 1400s. Constructed of ad- meaning to + sistere, assist means to stand by, help or assist.

Consist came to English in the 1520s, meaning to stand or place together. Its parts are con-, meaning with or together + sistere.

Persist is made of per-, meaning thoroughly + sistere. Persist arrived in English in the 1530s. Persist means to continue steadfastly.

Insist, to persist or dwell upon, came into English in the 1580s. It’s constructed of in-, meaning upon, + sistere

Some less likely descendants of sistere include:

exist & existence
subsist & subsistence

And what was my motivation to focus on sistere & its progeny? I’m overly fond of one of sistere’s little-known descendants, resistentialism. Paul Jennings coined the word in 1948. Resistentialism is the seemingly spiteful behavior manifested in inanimate objects. I celebrated Veterans’ Day trimming a hillside of overgrown junipers, struggling with the resistentialism manifested by a pair of loppers.

Dear readers, what recent experience have you had with resistentialism?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the OED, Wordnik, Etymonline. &


  1. My phone seems to dislike me strongly. It leaps from my hands, prevented from suicide only by its Otterbox casing, and slips extra letters onto the ends of texts. "L" or "M" are favorites; what I'm trying to hit is send!

    I followed all the conjugations quite easily, thanks to you, but the unlikely descendants will have me mentally puzzling out etymologies all week!

    Also, would you happen to know the origin of the phrase "your neck of the woods"?

  2. My computer is often actively involved in resistentialism. When it gets really resistential, I give it a time out. Turning it off for a bit seems to help it get its act together. :-) Fascinating stuff as always.

  3. Hi Rachel6 & Anne,
    Computers, phones, printers, & their "handshakes" may be the archbishops of the Church of Resistentialism. I'm with you both.

  4. Rachel6, I forgot to reply to the "neck of the woods" question. The folks at Grammarphobia have what looks like a well-researched answer:

  5. What a great word. And with as much resistentialism we humans experience on a regular basis I'm surprised it not commonly used. My most recent experience would have to be with a little folding table for my grandsons. It did not want to unfold. I guess it just didn't want to be a table any longer. It won. It is now a little pile of plastic. Fine.

  6. Hey Christine - remember those 2000-pound vinyl-topped, pressboard folding tables of the '70s? I couldn't possibly count the cases of resistentialism I ran into in my years schlepping those around as a YMCA volunteer.