Fun Etymology Tuesday – Second

We’re sneaking this in at the last second, but it’s Tuesday—time for Fun Etymology!

Speaking of, for our second etymology of the year, our word is: ‘second.’

You can play second fiddle, be someone’s second in a duel, or second the motion. All these connotations stem from the sequential idea that the second is the one after the first. Our modern meaning tightly marries ‘second’ to the number 2, but the Latin root ‘secundus’ more broadly means “following, next in time or order”, itself coming from PIE *sekw-, “to follow”.

So why do we say there are 60 seconds in a minute? We borrowed this meaning from Old French ‘seconde’, which comes from Medieval Latin ‘secunda’, a shortened version of ‘secunda pars minuta’ meaning roughly “second diminished part”. (‘Secunda’ here is, of course, just a form of ‘secundus’.) Here’s the logic: the first time you divide an hour by sixty, you get minutes (the ‘prime minute’, the first little part). The second time you divide an hour by sixty, you get seconds (the second little part).

Can you believe this is our second Fun Etymology of 2019? Can you believe this is our second year at the HLC?! Those diminutive parts of an hour sure fly by, don’t they?

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