Tag Archives: words


I’ve been thinking a lot about the word settle, lately.  There are so many different ways in which it is used nowadays that it got me thinking about its origins.

There’s the verb, to settle, as in making a home somewhere or coming to an agreement, as in settling an argument or reaching a legal settlement like in a divorce or a strike.  Paying a debt, settling up. Clearing, as in waiting until the dust settles, or the chemistry sense where particles settle out of solution.  And a lot of others.

And then there’s the noun, settler, a person who made a home somewhere by settling in.  Or someone who reached an agreement or helped others to reach one.

But mostly I’ve been thinking of it when it’s used negatively to describe a situation in our lives, when we settle for less than we deserve.  That’s what a lot of blogs nowadays are trying to tell us, especially the ones around achieving success.  “Don’t settle for less than ________ fill in the blank.  And the implication is that settling is a bad thing.  Only unsuccessful people, under achievers settle.

So let’s see how this came to be. Get a little data, if you will.

The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that settle, the noun is derived from: “long bench,” 1550s, from Middle English setle “a seat,” from Old English setl “a seat, stall; position, abode; setting of a heavenly body,” related to sittan “to sit,” from Proto-Germanic *setla (cognates: Middle Low German, Middle Dutch setel, Dutch zetel, German Sessel, Gothic sitls), from PIE *sedla (cognates: Latin sella “seat, chair,” Old Church Slavonic sedlo “saddle,” Old English sadol “saddle”), from root *sed (1) “to sit”

The verb form of settle has the following derivations:  “come to rest,” Old English setlan “cause to sit, place, put,” from setl “a seat” (see settle (n.)). Related: Settling. Compare German siedeln “to settle, colonize.”

From c.1300 of birds, etc., “to alight.” From early 14c. as “sink down, descend; cave in.” Early 15c. in reference to suspended particles in a liquid. Sense of “establish a permanent residence” first recorded 1620s; that of “decide” is 1620s. Meaning “secure title to by deed” is from 1660s.

Meaning “reconcile” (a quarrel, differences, etc.) perhaps is influenced by Middle English sahtlen “to reconcile,” from Old English saht “reconciliation,” from Old Norse satt “reconciliation.” To settle down “become content” is from 1853; transitive sense from 1520s; as what married couples do in establishing domesticity, from 1718. To settle for “content oneself with” is from 1943.

So this word has been with us in our English language since at least the 1300s and probably earlier than that.

At Wiktionary, they tell us that as a noun, the first meaning is archaic, meaning a seat of any kind.  That makes perfect sense as many of the root forms above are about sitting, including saddle.  I like that.  Settle is related to saddle.  Makes sense given how we humans like to change the spelling and meanings of words based on similar sounds.  Who knew?  But basically, it’s a seat, stall, position, abode, and setting of a heavenly body.  I forgot about that one.  Makes me wonder if Moonset and Sunset are really shortened forms of the Moon or Sun settling below the horizon.  I can easily see how calling it Sun settle would ultimately result in shortening to sunset.

The next meaning is: A long bench, often with a high back and arms, with storage space underneath for linen.  This one reminds me very much of a piece of furniture I grew up with.  We had this wooden high back seat in our entry hallway, which also had arms on the side, was wide enough for 2 grownups or 3 kids to sit on and remove their shoes or wet boots.  The top of the seat was hinged and there was a storage space underneath it where we often put our gloves and scarves and such.  Very handy.  And then on the floor under that, we had a mat to put the dirty or wet shoes on.  Here’s a picture I found on eBay of a monk’s bench for sale. It looked kind of like this bench only was a bit wider and didn’t have the little shelf underneath.  So apparently, I actually grew up with a settle.

storage bench

But I digress  as I usually do.  The 3rd meaning of the noun, in Wiktionary is: “A place made lower than the rest; a wide step or platform lower than some other part” and is obsolete.  The example of its use is taken from the Bible.  Ok, don’t get me started on the Bible and obsolescence!  We’ll leave that one be.  But there it is again, that sense of lower or less than.

The verb form has 11 transitive and 11 intransitive meanings!  That’s a lot of variety for a single word!

It seems that many of these refer to a coming down, a lower platform, a sense of sinking, the result of negotiating for less than you originally asked for.  And that seems to be the way I see it used more often than not.  Very common in advertising – “Don’t settle for less!”

It’s like we forgot that it has a lot of other very positive meanings too.  Reaching an agreement, calming or pacifying, rendering quiet, making sure of, establishing,  balancing, making permanent, entering into the married state, freeing from uncertainty, and others.

This is the way I’d like to start using and thinking about settling.  Not as a giving in to someone else’s demands or taking less than I deserve or sinking lower, but rather as a path to harmony and agreement.  Peaceful resolution.  Calming.  Let’s face it, we could certainly use a lot more settling in this world today.   That would be a good thing.  Especially here in BC where there’s a very difficult teacher’s strike underway, with our government and the teacher’s union at an impasse in trying to reach a settlement.  And let’s not even talk about all the international conflicts currently unsettling global peace.

And no, I certainly won’t settle for being taken hostage by unreasonable abusive people, or give in to unreasonable demands if I’m on strike.  And I won’t settle for less than I deserve when I render a service to someone, unless I choose to gift it to them.

I’d just like to see more of the settling that makes us comfortable in our respective saddles, gives us a bit of clarity while riding off into the sun settlings, making peaceful, harmonious homes for our families.  Sitting on our settles when we come home after a hard day’s work or play.

Do you think you could settle for that?  I certainly could.

Settling in until the next thing moves me to ramble,




What Should I write? Should I write? I Should write! Write, I should!

Every now and then, I find myself getting annoyed about a certain word.  Recently, it’s been the word, should.

You’ve probably all heard the phrase “stop shoulding all over me”!

And that’s the sense in which I was taking it; that I should be doing stuff – whatever that stuff happened to be – and if I didn’t, then I was bad and wrong.  And that’s one way it’s commonly used.  To make someone, even if that happens to be yourself, wrong about not doing something.

I should get more exercise.  I should get to bed earlier. You should eat less cookies. You should go on a diet…..should should should.  

This is not a positive way to go about things!  Should I be using should here? That’s one part of the question.  The other part is wondering what should really means based on how it came to be. So when should should be used?

When I start feeling that way about a word, I also get a nagging feeling that maybe as a society we have inadvertently started to misuse it, by adding extra meaning that wasn’t originally associated with that word.

So I  looked into how the word should came to be and here’s what I found in Wiktionary.

It is derived from the Old English word sceolde, a preterite form of sculan. Ok, now there’s 3 words I don’t know anything about: sceolde, preterite, and sculan.  Be patient, it will get clearer, I promise.

Working bass akwards, sculan has origins in Proto-Germanic (skulana) and Proto-Indo-European (skel) and both mean “to owe” or “must, should, shall”. The transitive verb form is the “to owe” and the auxiliary verb is the “shall/should/must” form.  Just to remind us (because I forgot too!), transitive verbs are those that require one or more objects (I kick the ball) but stand alone and auxiliary verbs need other verbs (I shall go to the dance).

Preterite is simple.  Just means belonging wholly to the past.  Sceolde is not used anymore.  It belongs in the past.  So we’ll forget about sceolde for now, although I’m sure that would be an interesting ramble for another time.

Getting back to sculan, there are 3 different senses in which it is used.  The transitive one in which it is purely to owe something to someone.  Could be money, could be a favour, whatever.  The second sense is to be obliged to.  This is a bit more subtle than a simple owing.  This has a must or should flavour to it.  I have to pee, I must find a toilet!  She called me twice yesterday, I really should call her back.  The third sense is the to be going (or about) to do something.  I think I shall call her back.  I shall do my laundry right after I finish this cup of coffee.

And this is where the  guilt and bad connotations arise; using the “obliging” second sense when the “gonna do” third is really where you want to come from.   And vice versa.  I think the problem comes in when we confuse a true obligation with a simple desire.  You’d like to lose 20 pounds and to do that you probably need to increase your activity and decrease or alter your food intake. So you tell yourself “I should lose 20 pounds”.

But you have no obligation to do that! You are not obliged to lose 20 pounds.  You are not obliged to go on a diet.  You’re not obliged to increase your level of exercise.  You may have a strong desire to do this but you may never actually manifest that desire by acting upon it. Unless……and this is a big one, you feel obliged to yourself, or another loved person to do this for. And then you actually act upon that desire or obligation.

(Desire is another ramble for another time.  Humans have been working on that one for as long as we can remember and no one has yet figured it out completely!  So let’s not go there right now, other than to acknowledge that it’s a part of the picture.)

An example of how we might thoughtlessly use should: You think to yourself, I worked really hard this week, I owe it to myself to go out for dinner and see a movie.  In which case you can say, “I worked really hard this week.  I should take myself out for dinner and a movie”.  But to my mind, even better – you can also say “I shall take myself out to dinner and a movie”.  And actually, using shall is way more positive because now you have committed to doing this for yourself, whereas the “should take myself out” has a little bit of uncertainty still attached to it.  As if you feel you owe it to yourself, but you’re not actually going to give yourself that reward.  And bingo, we’re into the guilt trip.  We should have done it but we didn’t!

And let’s be perfectly clear, guilt is a great motivator!  Jewish mothers and grandmothers – mine included –  have capitalized on this for centuries!  It’s such a small piece of pie left, you should eat it so I don’t have to throw it away!  Or “What? I should make your bed?!  Who slept in it!!??”  and so on.

It’s kinda sneaky that way.  Before you know what happened, you shoulded on yourself. Drat!

How can we stop doing that? Well maybe it’s such an ingrained habit we can’t. But I like to believe that we can change, and especially when it’s for the better.

What I recommend is every time you use or are about to use the word should, step back for a second and think whether you’re talking about a must do, an obligation, an owing, or an act that you’re going to or about to do.

Just take a bit more care when using this one.  Be a little  kinder to yourself and others. Think of it as a random act of kindness. I know I shall.