Seated and sitting do not mean same thing


Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s sitting president, is getting a lot of flak in his Central Kenya backyard and from parts of the Rift Valley. Hitherto conformists in the Jubilee government have changed tack and are brazenly attacking the president in public.

On January 1, 2020, four passengers on a bus en-route to Lamu town from Mombasa were killed by suspected Al Shabaab militants. Frankly, Kenyans travelling in public service vehicles in areas close to the Kenya-Somalia border are, so to speak, sitting ducks. Air travel to affected areas has been restricted. The question is; for how long will Kenyans sit out this situation?

From the narrative above, let us take the words ‘sit’ and ‘sitting’ and use them as the launchpad for today’s discussion. ‘Sitting’(noun, adjective or gerund) comes from the word ‘sit’ (verb), which has a relation to the word ‘seat’ (noun, verb) from which we also get the words ‘seating’ (noun) and ‘seated’ (verb). As indicated in brackets, some of these words function as nouns, adjectives, and verbs, while others do not. The context in which they are used is, therefore, key to understanding their applications.

The ‘sitting duck’ expression was derived from the sport of bird hunting. Ideally, bird hunters try to shoot down birds that are in full flight and weaving. The birds are normally released from strategically placed cages in the hunting area.

One’s weight

To kill the birds requires special prowess, which is to say bird hunting is a tough sport. However, while killing a dove in flight is almost impossible; killing a duck that is hiding in marshes where ducks spend time looking for food is much easier. A sitting duck, therefore, means an easy target or someone gullible.

In the phrase ‘sitting president’, ‘sitting’ is used in the adjectival form. It is not used as the present participle of sit – the action of taking one’s weight off the feet and resting on, say, a sofa, stool, table, chair or on the ground in an upright position.

Remember you can take your body’s weight off your feet by lying on your back or stomach. ‘Sitting president’ is simply another way of saying ‘current president’. In the phrase ‘sitting duck’, ‘sitting’, besides the idiomatic aspect, can also be used to show the duck’s attitude or posture; not so that of the president in ‘sitting president’.

The phrase ‘sit out’ has many meanings attached to it. To ask, “for how long will Kenyans ‘sit out’ this situation?” is to wonder how long the air travel restriction will take. This notwithstanding that it is for security reasons while the army and the police try to flush Al Shabaab militants out of the vast Boni forest.

The issue

When the word ‘sitting’ is used as a noun, it refers to a session, a period of time set aside for a particular activity. For example; “Due to limited financing, court sittings will have to be severely curtailed”.  “Tuesday’s Parliament sitting was interrupted when a female MP poured water on the temporary speaker”. Here, it might interest you to know that many of us find it difficult to make a distinction between ‘temporary’ (interim) and ‘temporal’ (non-spiritual, worldly affairs).

Not surprisingly, too, some of us use the words ‘sit’ and ‘seat’ interchangeably but hardly notice the slip. The issue is not that those who do so are unaware of the difference; it is simply a lack of attention to detail. The material used for upholstery in making couches or car seats are referred to as ‘seating’. It is ungrammatical to use the word ‘sitted’ in the place of ‘seated’.

The word ‘seat’ (noun) refers to furniture; sofa, stool, chair, etc. Seats are found in homes, churches, in vehicles and planes. As a verb, ‘seat’ (second or third person) refers to the action of a person (organizer of an event) helping another (an invited guest or other attendees) find a seat on which to sit. Less so, the seat is used to describe the buttocks or, like in ‘the seat’ of one’s pants, the part of the clothing that covers the buttocks.

Seating also refers to an arrangement of chairs in a room, especially one that hosts many people (theatre, conference room, halls). In a sentence, one can say; “The seating in the theatre was such that from whichever angle, the stage was clearly visible”. “The seating on the dais was sparse”.

Mr. Chagema is a correspondent for The Standard.



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