origin of ‘reseda’: Natural History, by Pliny the Elder

 

reseda-lutea-l

Reseda lutea L.
photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Udo Schmidt

 

 

MEANING

 

any plant of the European genus Reseda, including mignonette and dyer’s rocket, which has small spikes of greenish, yellowish or whitish flowers

 

ORIGIN

 

Through translations of Naturalis Historia (Natural History – 77), a vast encyclopaedia of the natural and human worlds by the Roman statesman and scholar Pliny the Elder (23-79), this word was borrowed from Latin reseda, the name of a plant credited with healing properties, perhaps the mignonette (Reseda alba). This Latin word was interpreted as a noun use of reseda, the imperative of resedare, to allay, the terms morbos reseda (= allay this disease) having been used as a charm when applying the leaves as poultice according to Pliny, who wrote:

circa ariminum nota est herba quam resedam vocant. discutit collectiones inflammationesque omnes. qui curant ea, addunt haec verba: “reseda, morbos reseda; scisne, scisne, quis hic pullus egerit radices nec caput nec pedes habeat.” haec ter dicunt totiensque despuunt.
translation by John Bostock and Henry T. Riley (1855):
In the vicinity of Ariminum, there is a well-known plant called ‘reseda:’ it disperses abscesses and all kinds of inflammations. Those who employ it for these purposes, add the following words: “‘Reseda,’ allay this disease! knowest thou not, knowest thou not, what chick it is that has torn up these roots? Let it have nor head nor feet!” This formula is repeated thrice, the party spitting on the ground each time.

Both the Latin name reseda and the verb resedare only appear in Naturalis Historia. The verb is from sedare, to settle, to allay; sedat-, the participial stem of sedare, is the origin of the English verb and adjective sedate. The verb sedare, causal of sedere, to sit, originally meant to cause to sit, to seat.

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