Daily Archives: September 11, 2020


Have you, after this social season, attained satiety with society? Have you had your fill? Have you had enough? Have you had so much that you are starting to satiety things about it?

Wait. What, now?

The pronunciation of satiety is a bit of… a blivet, I guess you could say, in Kurt Vonnegut’s sense of “ten pounds of shit in a five-pound sack.” Since everyone who reads Sesquiotica is painfully well educated or at least is quite lexically attentive, you all know that satiety is the noun for the state of being satiated. And there is general agreement on how to say satiated: although a few people might be heard saying it like “say tee ate id,” it’s well enough established and accepted that it’s like “say she ate it” only with “id” instead of “it.” But that fact just causes mischief when we turn to satiety.

I should give a bit of an appetizer here about the origins of this word. The English word has, as the OED puts it, multiple origins: “Partly a borrowing from French. Partly a borrowing from Latin.” The French source, satieté, came from the Latin source, satietas, of course, but the point is that English wasn’t fully satisfied with what it got from French and reached past it to Latin to get some more. And it just happens that when it first came to English from French, it reflected the phonological derivations current at the time: we spelled it with a c as in sacietye. In other words, it sounded like “society.”

Indeed, it kept sounding like that well into the early 1800s. But by that time the spelling had long since been updated to reflect its glorious Latin origins, and, as has often happened, pronunciation eventually followed spelling, and so it came to be said with a /t/ in place of the /s/: “sa tie a tee.”

Except, of course, for those of us who think first of satiated. I do not recall if I ever earnestly thought that “say shitty” was the proper pronunciation of satiety, but I do know I’ve long been aware of it as the pronunciation one might expect by analogy with satiated. And now I have confirmation that I am not alone in this. I was watching a History Channel documentary on YouTube this evening and the narrator pronounced it exactly that way (and yes, he was definitely saying satiety).

So what we have with this word now is a feast and a half. There’s one way you’re supposed to say it, but there are other ways you could say it, at least one of which seems more logical to many people. And you have multiple options for wordplay too.

And, for that matter, there are multiple shades of sense. These days it’s usually positive: you’re full and happy about it, not overstuffed; you have been fed and the world is just right. Back when it sounded like “society” it was as often used to mean ‘overstuffed, fed up to the point of disgust, surfeited, crapulous, and so on’. And I would venture to say that you could still try your luck at using it that way – if you can get away with saying it as “say shitty,” why not use it to say shitty things?