seize and seizure

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Graysoda

New Member
English-American
"Seize the Day" came up in class and I was talking about other definitions and got myself if a jam. I told the students in this context, it means to grab hold of, but it can also mean totally stop or jam esp. with "seize up." This was confusing enough, but then I moved into noun forms and having to explain that seizure can mean what you grab or take and it can mean what happens to you when you have epilepsy.
The epileptic seizure is what confused me (and the students). Does anyone know why we call it a "seizure"? Finally, I thought I had heard on medical shows, in an emergency the doctors say, "He's seizing." Is this the same thing? What do they mean? His heart is seizing?
Help!
 
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    The basic meaning of the verb is "take (rapid) possession". A disease can therefore seize you, and this is how we get to an epileptic seizure: compare 'possession' (by evil spirits): it's the state of, or the result of, being seized or possessed.

    I haven't seen 'seizure' used to mean "what you take"; rather, it's the action of taking - the seizure of assets by the government. Would you then describe those assets themselves as the seizure?

    For mechanical 'seize up' I consulted the OED. As far as I can tell, the intermediate meaning that led to this is "hold fast". Two parts of the machine stick, they 'seize', hold each other fast, and from this comes the modern use of 'seize up'.

    I would imagine the doctors' 'seize' can best be explained as a back-formation from '(have a) seizure', rather than being a development of the "grasp, take possession" ideas.
     

    Graysoda

    New Member
    English-American
    Yes, I suppose I meant "the act of" rather than "what you take."

    So the epileptic seizure is not so much a medical term as a artifact of when epileptics were "possessed"?
    Am I wrong about the medical, "He's seizing"? I have the impression it's when the person's heart stops beating.

    Anyway, thanks. This forum is a great place for "word nerds"
     

    Nunty

    Senior Member
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    When a medical person says "he's seizing", the meaning is "he's having a seizure". It is not when the heart stops beating.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    I didn't mean specifically that epileptics were seen as 'possessed'. I was comparing the grammar: a disease or condition does something to you, so the abstract nouns used reflect that. So also an attack of the gout. Gout attacks you, apoplexy seizes you, demons possess you, and so on.
     
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