What does sententious mean?

Reading time: About 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: sententious.

I’d avoided the book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly — by Jean-Dominique Bauby (pictured above) — for years. As a survivor of two strokes, I didn’t want to read a memoir about a French editor who had suffered from a devastating stroke that lead to locked-in syndrome and eventually killed him.

But as a writer, I was fascinated. How did he summon the nerve to write a book by simply blinking his eye? I mean this literally. Locked-in syndrome leaves the person’s intellect intact but, because of paralysis, renders them unable to communicate. All Bauby could do was blink his left eye. But with assistance from a partner who recited the alphabet he was able to dictate his entire book that way. Remarkable!

When a friend told me the book wasn’t too grim, I finally summoned the courage to read it. I felt foolish for having waited so long. The book is brief but exceptionally well written and neither maudlin nor angry. And it even gave me my word of the week: sententious. Here’s how Bauby used it:

“Good for the morale,” pronounced the neurologist in sententious tones.

I guessed sententious was somehow related to the word sentry. I didn’t know it meant “given to moralizing in a pompous or affected manner.” When I researched the etymology of the word I was even more surprised. Turns out it’s from Middle French sententious, which in turn comes from the Latin sententious meaning “full of meaning, pithy,” from sentential meaning, “thought; expression of a thought.”

Interestingly, the root is also linked to the word sentence rather than sentry! Sentry is thought to come from the Middle French sentinel or from the Italian sentinel, meaning “a sentinel.”