Saturday, May 30, 2009



In 'Happy Recognitions', Patrick Kurp discusses the identification of a plant in his back yard as Carex arcta (Northern clustered sedge):
"Sedge" is an attractive word, more pleasurable to say than mere "grass." It echoes with said, hedge and sedulous, and is rooted in the Old English secg, meaning sword.
Bosworth and Toller have separate entries in their Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (1898) for the masculine noun secg, -es = sedge and the feminine noun secg, -e = sword. They are etymologically related.

Seeing secg, I wondered whether the word was related to Latin seco = cut, and consultation of Calvert Watkins' Indo-European Roots, s.v. sek-, confirmed that there is indeed a connection. The names of the cutting tools scythe and saw also come from the same root. So does Latin securis = axe.

The etymology of sedge is all the more interesting to me because it emphasizes the distinguishing botanical characteristic of sedges, as opposed to grasses and rushes. As the mnemonic rhyme says, "Sedges have edges..."

According to J.P. Mallory and D.Q. Adams, Oxford Introduction to Proto-European and the Proto-European World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 374,

A Bible verse, Hebrews 4:12, comes to mind when I think about the connection between cutting and knowing:
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
But back to sedge. I recently read some poems of George Meredith, among them Song in the Songless:
They have no song, the sedges dry,
And still they sing.
It is within my breast they sing,
As I pass by.
Within my breast they touch a string,
They wake a sigh.
There is but sound of sedges dry;
In me they sing.
I also recently became acquainted with the work of artist Susan Hartnett, who does charcoal drawings of grasses found along the Maine coast. Here is one of her drawings, Winter Sedge:

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