Sense and Sensibility

By Mark Nichol - 4 minute read

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This post lists and defines words derived from the Latin verb sentire, meaning “feel” or “perceive.”

The direct descendant of sentire is sense, which means “be or become conscious of” or “comprehend” or “detect.” As a noun, the word has a more extensive set of definitions—it can pertain to awareness; intelligence; conveyed or intended meaning; and the faculty or function of perceiving through sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. (The word also pertains, less directly, to the capacity to appreciate validity or wisdom, as in “That makes sense,” or an overall feeling about a mood or a trending opinion, as in “The sense among the committee members was favorable.”) As used often in these posts, the word also pertains to the various meanings of a word depending on connotation.

A sensation is an awareness, feeling, or state of consciousness, or something that is the cause of such; by extension, the word applies to excitement or to someone or something that causes excitement, such as a particularly successful theatrical production or extremely talented athlete or performer; the adjectival form is sensational, and sensationally is the adverbial form. The adjective also pertains to an appeal to emotional reactions, as in the case of publicizing gossip. Sensationalism is the use of subject matter or communication techniques for this purpose; sensationalist is the noun form as well as one adjectival form; the other is sensationalistic. In addition, the adjective sensate describes something that relates to the senses (the adverbial form is sensately), while its antonym, insensate, along with the corresponding adverbial form, refers to a lack of awareness or to brutality or foolishness.

The adjective sensory refers to the faculties of the senses, as do sensual and sensuous, though those terms are more often employed in reference to gratification of the senses, especially in terms of sexuality. The respective noun forms are sensuality and sensuousness.

Assent and consent both mean “agreement” or “approval,” but the former is used in the context of an idea or a suggestion, while consent applies to permission; the distinction can also be expressed as pertaining to judgment or understanding on the one hand and feelings or the will on the other. Both words also serve as verbs as well as nouns; in addition, one who assents is an assenter (or assentor), while consenter is a noun and the adverbial form is consentingly.

The adjective consenting is used in the phrase “consenting adults” in the context of freedom to engage in acts or behaviors as long as other participants are willing partners, while “age of consent” pertains to the age at which a person is legally considered an adult and is entitled to make decisions about personal behavior. Consensus is a general agreement or solidarity; the adjective, consensual, refers to mutual consent in any endeavor but often pertains to sexual behavior.

Dissent is a noun and a verb referring to disagreement or, less often, withholding of approval; it is often employed in the context of a judicial panel, though on a larger scale it pertains to deviation from political or religious ideas. One who dissents is a dissenter, and the term is often capitalized in historical references to various groups of people who did not conform with orthodox religion.

Insense is occasionally used in British English to mean “inform” or “instruct” or “impress with an idea”; incense is unrelated. To resent is to feel annoyed or envious; the feeling is resentment.

Nonsense refers to words or other communication that does not convey any ideas or meaning or that is absurd, impudent, or trivial; the adjectival and adverbial forms are nonsensical and nonsensically. (Nonsense, as well as antisense and missense, is also used in genetics in reference to coding.)

Sensible means “rational” or “reasonable,” “aware,” “conscious,” “perceptible,” and “receptive”; additional meanings are “convinced” and “practical,” and the noun form is sensibility. Sensitive shares the meaning of “receptive” and is a synonym for sensory, but it also applies to restricted information or to issues that require caution or tact, and it often applies to susceptibility to differences or fluctuations or to delicate emotions.

Extrasensory is an adjective pertaining to perception of stimuli outside the five physical senses and usually applies to clairvoyance, precognition, and telepathy. Multisensory applies to something involving several of the senses, while multisense pertains to multiple meanings. Sensorium, meanwhile, denotes the areas of the brain associated with receiving and interpreting stimuli; the plural is formed as sensoriums or sensoria. Sensurround, a trademark for a sound system used in movie theaters, is a combination of sense and surround.

Common sense is the ability to behave with good judgment and think and make prudent decisions; the usual adjectival form is commonsense, but variations include commonsensical and commonsensible, and commonsensically is the adverbial form. “Horse sense” is a synonym for “common sense,” based either on the notion that people who handle horses are attuned to them or on the behavioral qualities of horses.

Words descended from sentire that writers may not associate with feeling and perception include sentence, which (from the notion of expressing a feeling or an opinion) denotes either a self-contained syntactical unit or an analogous mathematical expression or a legal judgment or the punishment stemming from such a judgment; sentence is also a verb in the legal sense, referring to the action of imposing a legal judgment or, by extension, causing one or more people to experience suffering.

Another such word is sentient, meaning “aware” or “conscious of or responsive to stimuli,” or, less commonly, “acutely perceptive.” The adverbial form is sentiently, and the quality is sentience.

A sentiment is an emotion or feeling, an opinion or a thought based on feeling, or the emotional subtext of a thought, statement, or passage. To be sentimental, meanwhile, is to be influenced by feelings or governed by emotion rather than reason or thought; the adverbial form is sentimentally. The word can have a negative connotation pertaining to an excess of emotion; the noun form for this sense is sentimentality.

A sentinel is a guard or someone or something suggestive of a guard; the synonym sentry is perhaps a truncation of sentinel, though it may be derived from sanctuary.

Scent also stems from sentire; it means “odor” but also refers to the sense of smell or the power of detecting an odor and, by extension, a course of discovery or pursuit, or an inkling. Scent is also a synonym for perfume and, by extension, refers to any mixture used to lure fish or game.

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1 Response to “Sense and Sensibility”

  • D.A.W.

    “Multisensory applies to something involving several of the senses.”

    Well maybe so, but a multisensory satellite, aircraft, or system has some combination of sensing technologies, such as these:
    microwave, infrared, optical, ultraviolet, X-ray, gamma ray, magnetism, radar, radioactivity, spectroscopy, temperature, pressure…

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