Sessile

A few days ago, a colleague said something (I forget exactly what) which sparked a memory of encountering a word which I had never encountered before and have never encountered or had occasion to use since. I can remember the circumstances in moderate detail and there is some supporting evidence, but just why I can remember it is a complete mystery. (I often ponder the mechanism and nature of random memories, with no firm conclusions. I think that my memory for what I remember if good, but on the other hand I forget an awful lot along the way). The word is sessile

At the end of my first year of high school (I’d just turned 13) I was awarded the citizenship prize for our year (possibly jointly with one other student – another random memory which surfaced as I was typing this). The class teacher asked what book I wanted and I said the current edition of the Guinness Book of Records (which I still have, which is most of the reason I am certain this memory happened). Sometime over the summer holidays I was staying with our grandparents. While reading the book, I encountered the record for pushing a hospital bed, a “usually sessile object”, and asked my grandmother what it meant. I can’t remember if we checked a dictionary (if so whether it was in a dictionary the size my grandparents were likely to have had (I can’t remember that they had a dictionary)) or reasoned it out between us. Clearly, the context shows that this object is not usually pushed, but is capable of it (eg a hospital bed compared with a domestic bed). 

In fact, Dictionary.com’s definition is:

1. Botany. attached by the base, or without any distinct projecting support, as a leaf issuing directly from the stem.
2. Zoology. permanently attached; not freely moving.

Nothing about hospital beds. The derivation  is:

1715–25; <Latin sessilis fit for sitting on, low enough to sit on, dwarfish (said of plants), equivalent to sess(us) (past participle of sedēre to sit1) + -ilis-ile

Google search’s most common result is the sessile polyp in the human bowel or colon, but Google Ngram’s most common collocation is the the sessile drop, in full the sessile drop technique, which I won’t pretend to understand. 

Possibly the editors of the Guinness Book of Records reasoned that stationary would connote an object which couldn’t be pushed at all (try pushing a domestic bed!). But traffic can be (temporarily) stationary

Thinking about this over the last few days, I concluded that objects have a range of pushability: compare a wheelchair, trolley, ambulance stretcher, hospital bed, domestic bed with wheels and domestic bed without wheels.

Another more recent (within 20+ years) random memory is of proofreading a document which referred to a stationery car

A few days ago, Facebook suggested the page of Guinness World Records. This was before I had started drafting this post, so either Facebook can read my mind or it was a complete coincidence.

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