A couple weeks ago when I was looking up a recent word of the week, fustilarian, Dictionary.com suggested I might actually have meant “sertularian.” I didn’t, but I went ahead and looked up “sertularian,” anyway (because, why not?), and in so doing, exposed myself to another new word: “sessile.” Not to be drawn too far off course from my investigation of “fustilarian,” I resisted the temptation to further research “sertularian” and “sessile,” saving them for a future Word of the Week post. Well, the future is now, and I have found particular poetic potential in “sessile.”
Dictionary.com defines “sessile” within two contexts, the first being botany and the second being zoology. In the context of the former, the word means “attached by the base, or without any distinct projecting support, as a leaf issuing directly from the stem.”In the context of the latter, it means “permanently attached; not freely moving.“
Merriam-Webster’s definitions are similar: “attached directly by the base; not raised upon a stalk or peduncle” and “permanently attached or established; not free to move about.”
Though Merriam-Webster rates “sessile” as landing in the bottom 40% of word popularity (so I need not feel so silly for never having heard the word before, or at least not remembering if I have), I think its potential for figurative use is pretty immense. For instance, a character in a story or speaker of a poem could be described as sessile–tethered, for example, to a lover or to the past, or held back by a physical deformity or someone for whom he or she feels responsible. George Milton of John Steinbeck‘s Of Mice and Men comes to mind as a character who might well be–albeit somewhat ironically–described as sessile. Though he and Lennie are migrant workers–seemingly the exact opposite of people whose situations might be described as sessile, or “permanently established,” and they are more than “free to move about”–George is still not “freely moving.” Both he and Lennie are held back by Lennie’s always being misunderstood and doing “bad things” that keep the two constantly on the run. **SPOILER ALERT** Until George must shoot Lennie near the end of the novella, prompting him to realize how much he actually needs and cares about Lennie, he definitely feels sessile–“permanently attached” to Lennie, “not freely moving,” “not free to move about” (forced to move about, perhaps, but not free to establish the dream ranch he and Lennie imagine and settle down).
Now, go forth! You have been linguistically empowered!
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