TO SIT BEFORE
The word president was first used in English in the year 1382, a time when, of course, there were no presidents as we think of them in today's terms. Instead, a president was the appointed governor of a province. Later on, a new definition of "appointed or elected head of a gathering" emerged, which evolved into the modern political sense of the word. Through Old French, president comes from the Latin present active participle praesidens, translating to "one who governs" or "one who supervises". More literally, though, it's "one who sits before", because the word comes from the prefix prae-, meaning "before", and the verb sedere, "to sit". This makes sense: governors have to preside over meetings by sitting before everyone else. Finally, prae- and sedere are from Proto-Indo-European per and sed, both with the same respective definitions.
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Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.