Re: KAQHMI and "Please be seated!"

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Jun 03 1997 - 06:49:03 EDT

At 7:18 PM -0400 6/2/97, Jim Beale wrote:
>At 7:41 AM -0400 6/2/97, Carl W. Conrad wrote:
>>At 6:57 AM -0400 6/2/97, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>>>P.S. In church yesterday, I finally figured out how to understand the
>>>phrase, "please be seated". Ever since I was a child, this phrase has
>>>puzzled me (who was going to seat me, and if someone else was going to do
>>>it, why phrase it as a request?). Is this an example of a real middle in
>>O BENE DICTUM, Jonathan! While I would NOT call this "an example of a real
>>middle in English," I would argue that the only proper form for this in
>>classical or KoinŽ Greek would in fact be a middle imperative, something
>>like KAQISASQE. This is comparable to my observation that Spanish "Aqui se
>>habla espa–ol" is the equivalent of the English passive, "Spanish is spoken
>I just checked and I can't find any instances of KAQHMAI which are
>other than middle voice. Is that unusual? Are there any other verbs
>which only show up in the middle voice?

No, there AREN'T any instances of KAQHMAI other than in the middle, which
is why I was rather shocked at the subject-header of this message (KAQHMI).
I don't have a list of such verbs, but one other very prominent verb is
found only with middle forms: KEIMAI, which is not as common, I think, in
NT as it is in classical Attic, where it also serves idiomatically, I might
note, as a pf. passive for TIQHMI (in the forensic literature, one sees not
infrequently the phrase NOMOS KEITAI EN ... "A law has been passed/is on
the books; in commercial language one finds hO ARGURIOS KEITAI EN THi
TRAPEZHi "The money is on deposit at the bank.")

>I never noticed that "Please be seated" was an implicit middle voice
>(if it makes sense to say that!) before. What an interesting thought.

I would not say that it is middle IN ENGLISH, but it is in that category of
verbs that might conceivably be called intransitive but are given a passive
form in English in order to avoid what might seem an awkward reflexive:
"Seat yourselves!" Of course, it would be easy enough just to say "Have a
seat!" or "Sit down!"--but "Be seated" is much more polite, isn't it? One
might compare the French reflexive S'ASSEOIR and the normal way of stating
this same command: "Asseyez-vous, s'il vous pla”t!" I guess that English
speakers have quite enough trouble with the distinction between
intransitive and transitive alternatives of SIT/SET (Greek KAQHIZOMAI or

Continuing with these "observations on the middle," there is the
(apparently archaic) Latin usage of the passive (if it really IS passive!)
form of the intransitive verbs of motion IRE and VENIRE:

        ITUR (Vergil's "Itur in antiquam silvam" in Aen. 6: "Entry is made into
                primeval forest ..."
        VENITUR, VENTUM EST "It is arrived, it was arrived"--of course
these are
                unacceptable translations

I would want to argue, I think, that these are middle voice forms serving
to depersonalize the action in question, like the awkward English "one says
..." or the less awkward French ("on dit ...") or German ("man fragt sich
..." which of course 'is Englished' as "The question is raised ..."

These are indeed interesting phenomena. Scientific minds would probably say
these are data that need analysis; my own more hunch-oriented mind is that
there is an uncanny tendency (at least, within a part of the Indo-European
linguistic family) to formulate expressions that focus upon the verbal
action or state rather than upon the subject. But these are different, are
they not, from the real "impersonal" constructions such as we know in Greek
PAENITET, etc.).

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(704) 675-4243

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