Seduce, Seduction and Seductive

By Maeve Maddox

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Wording in an astrological meme I saw on Facebook prompted this post:

People born under the sign of Cancer are very observing. They are very seducing and captivating.

I thought it odd to use seducing and not seductive in this context. (I was also bothered by the use of observing instead of observant, but that’s another post.)

The most common meaning of seduce in modern usage is probably this one:

seduce: To induce a woman to surrender her chastity.

In the 16th century, the meaning of seduce was “to persuade a vassal or soldier or other sworn follower to desert his allegiance or service.” The sexual meaning came along in the 18th century.

Seduce is used in a non-sexual sense to mean “to tempt” or “to lead astray”:

Those brightly coloured palettes of lipsticks are put at the front of displays to seduce you into buying more. 

People are seduced into evil by dehumanizing and labeling others.

The principal parts of the verb are seduce, seduced, (have) seduced. The present participle form seducing is used as a verb or a gerund:

The earl’s footman was seducing the kitchen maid. (verb used to form the past continuous tense)

Don Juan had a reputation for seducing women. (gerund, object of a preposition)

Although seducing was occasionally used as if it were cognate with French seduisant (“alluring, very attractive”), that meaning in English is conveyed by the adjective seductive. For example, “Sophia Loren is one of the most beautiful and seductive women in the world.”

Like the verb seduce, the adjective seductive is not limited to a sexual connotation. Anything that evokes a strong emotional attraction can be said to be seductive:

Tips for Creating a Seductive Email Campaign

Cameron’s ‘them and us’ message is a seductive one

The seductive appeal of cultural stereotypes

The disenfranchised elements of society are highly vulnerable to the seductive appeal of intolerant belief systems.

Used as a qualifier, the participle seducing means, “tempting to evil” or “corrupting”:

Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.—1 Timothy 4:1.

Freud notes that the abrogation by nations of their moral ties has a “seducing influence on the morality of individuals.”

When I did a web search for the phrase “very seducing,” I found it predominantly in descriptions of sexually explicit videos. I suppose the purveyors of prurient videos think “seducing” means sexy, unaware that they’ve stumbled upon a more apt description of their wares.

Bottom line:
seductive (adjective): sexy, tempting.
seducing (adjective): tempting to evil, corrupting.

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1 Response to “Seduce, Seduction and Seductive”

  • Thomas W. Thornberry

    I’m a Latin language enthusiast, and wondered if it might be possible for me to take the word “seduce” a bit further with you. Granted, I’m an amateur, so I can’t lay claim to any gravitas when it comes to the final word, but here are my musings.

    The Latin word “se” is a reflexive pronoun. So the phrase “Tomas se movit,” translates “Thomas moved himself.” The word “duce” most likely comes from the Latin verb “duco, ducere, dixi, ductus.” It means “to lead.” You can see it in all kinds of modern English words, like “produce, induce, reduce” or in it’s fourth principle part in “aquaduct, abduct” or even in the bodily glands called “ducts.” We even have the nouns for it like, “dux,” which eventually became “duke” and in the title of a certain Italian dictator, known as “El Duce” (the Leader).

    In all cases, they involve leading or moving something in a particular direction. “Seduce” then, in the original Latin context probably means simply “to lead to oneself.” Or to bring to someone/something toward you. Which ultimately, can be inferred from either of the two meanings with which your original article concluded.

    Isn’t Latin grand? Latina est lingua magnifica!

    Great article, and thanks for inDUCING me to respond. *Hee* 😉

    Latin Enthusiast

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