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Saints, Sanctions and Cicero

Yesterday's post included the following description of an article about alleged misconduct by a company's CEO:

The article questioned the company's culture:  it sanctioned a "best legs" contest for female employees, few women served in high-level positions, and no women served on the board of directors.  While one director would complain that the CEO "can't keep it in his pants," the members of the board of directors admitted in depositions that they never sanctioned the CEO for his alleged conduct.  A reader wrote to point out the opposing meanings of "sanctioned" in the post.  "Sanctioned" in the first sentence is being used to mean permitted or authorized while "sanctioned" in teh second sentence means penalized.  

Interestingly, this dichotomy of meaning dates back to Roman times and the Latin verb sancire which generally means to ratify, establish or make sacred.  The noun form, sanctus, has evolved into the English word "saint".  In the Roman Catholic liturgy, the Sanctus is sung as the last part of the Preface in the mass.  
The Romans also used sancire in a negative sense.  For example, the great Roman lawyer Marcus Tullius Cicero in a letter to his friend, Titus Pomponius Atticus, wrote: "Ego vero Solonis popularis tui etiam mei legem neglegam qui capite sanxit si qui in seditione non alterius utrius partis fuisset . . ." (I should neglect the law of Solon, your fellow countryman, and even of mine, who had punished as a capital offense anyone who did not take one side or another in an insurrection).  Cicero wrote this letter when the Roman republic was in entering its agonal state amidst the contest between two great generals - Caesar and Pompey.  Cicero is writing that he will ignore the ancient law of Solon and take neither general's side. 
Cicero's reference to the famous Athenian lawgiver Solon as Atticus's fellow countryman is perhaps a bit of a joke.  Atticus was Roman, not Greek.  Atticus did move to Greece and his cognomen (essentially a nickname), Atticus, means someone from Attica, the location of Athens.
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30172DBAB0084D3A8F39D7AF0A8E79BC.ashx Keith Paul Bishop
Partner at Allen Matkins
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