[ Etymonline for 'sequester (v.)' ] late 14c., "remove" something, "quarantine, isolate" (someone); "excommunicate;" also intransitive, "separate oneself from,"
from Old French sequestrer (14c.), from Late Latin sequestrare "to place in safekeeping,"
from Latin sequester "trustee, mediator," noun use of an adjective meaning "intermediate," which probably is related to sequi "to follow" (see sequel).
Meaning "seize by authority, confiscate" is first attested 1510s. ...

The bolded confuses me the most.
How did "to follow" shift semantically to mean "intermediate"?

2 Answers 2


The following is abbreviated from Robert Ainsworth’s Latin Dictionary 1783. (emphasis mine) The development from ‘follow’ to ‘hand over’ had already taken place in classical times: so the precise etymon is sequestro.

A/ sequor as you say means to follow, 1 to pursue 2 hunt; but also 3 to follow a leader, follow your parents, 5 trust, obey… 6…

B/ sequester -i or –is is someone trusted by both parties, 1 an umpire 2 an arbitrator. trusted by both parties with the sum under arbitration (Plautus) [but even Cicero uses sequester 3,4 to mean a fixer, a corrupter.]

C/ sequestro adverb. pecuniam ponere sequestro; to give up to arbitration, to put the money into the umpire’s hand.

You would have to be very cynical to believe it was lost at that stage...


This post from http://www.spanishetymology.com dated 2015/12/28 aided me to understand the semantic shifts. I omit blockquotes to ease readability.

Seguir (which we’ve discussed before here!) is also related to another interest[ing] word: sequester.

To sequester comes from the Latin sequestrare, which means, “to put in safekeeping.” This, in turn, is from the earlier Latin, sequester “trustee, mediator.” The Latin sequester is from the Latin segui, meaning, “to follow” — from which we also get the Spanish for the same, seguir.

In other words: Sequester went from meaning “to follow” to “being a trusted party” to “the trusted party holding something apart from everything else” to “holding something apart from everything else.” This is interesting because of the surprising implication of trust in the earlier connotations–but not the earliest connotations. Today, when you sequester someone or something, there is often a distinct lack of trust involved!

You can see the connection with seguir because the s-g of seguir maps to the s-qu of sequester easily!

  • The shift seems to come, as Cicero implies, when the Arbitrator is self-appointed. If the local 'boss' joins in a dispute between two poor people, the disputed car/ farm/ cash may never reach either of the disputants. The definition has shifted from "you are someone we trust;" to "I am someone you can trust,"
    – Hugh
    Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 9:57
  • @Hugh Thank you for your comment and felicitations!
    – user50720
    Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 17:29

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