That's What They Say
8:05 am
Sun April 13, 2014

Old vocabulary “segueing” into new vocabulary

Segues are unrelated to segments, although the two words sound similar and are both about parts.

On this week’s edition of That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan look into the etymology of segue.

Curzan first explored the origins of the word segment. In the late 16th century, segment comes into English from Latin, meaning “a piece that’s cut or broken off” or “a part of a circle.” Centuries later, segment also becomes a verb, meaning, “to divide into segments.”

The term segue, however, is completely unrelated to the term segment. Rather than Latin, segue finds its way into English through Italian as a musical term.

“Segue first shows up in English in 1740,” Curzan describes. “But for almost 200 years, it’s used primarily as an Italian term, to refer to proceeding from one movement to another in a musical piece without a break.”  

It is not until 1958 that segue is used in common English. At this time, radio deejays start using the term segue when referring to the transition from one song to another.

Then, in the 1970s, segue takes on a figurative connotation. This leads to examples like, “A roar segueing into cheers” or “Adolescents segueing into middle age.” Since this new treatment of the term, segue’s popularity has been on the rise.  

Oftentimes, we don’t realize when a word takes on a new usage. Curzan explains, “There are some changes that we notice, and then lots and lots of changes in the language that happen below the radar.”

What other words have changed? How has your old vocabulary segued into your new vocabulary? Let us know by commenting below.

-Clare Toeniskoetter, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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