The term “existential” comes from the Latin word “existentia,” which means “existence.” This is derived from the Latin verb “existere,” meaning “to stand out” or “to emerge,” which itself comes from “ex-” meaning “out” and “sistere,” meaning “to stand.”

1. Proto-Indo-European (PIE)

The PIE root “*sta-” means “to stand” or “to set.”

2. Latin

From the PIE root, the Latin word “sistere” developed, meaning “to stand” or “to place.” The verb “existere” combines “ex-” (out) and “sistere” (to stand), meaning “to stand out” or “to emerge.” The noun “existentia” is derived from “existere,” meaning “existence.”

3. Late Latin and Old French (c. 9th to 14th century CE)

The Late Latin term “existentia” evolved into Old French “existentiel,” meaning “pertaining to existence.”

4. Middle English (c. 11th to 15th century CE)

The Old French “existentiel” was adopted into Middle English as “existentiel,” meaning “pertaining to existence.”

5. Modern English (from 15th century CE to present)

The term “existential” evolved into its current form and pronunciation, retaining the meaning of “pertaining to existence.”

Phonetic Evolution

Over time, the pronunciation of “existential” has remained relatively stable, transitioning from Old French “existentiel” to Modern English “existential.”

Usage Examples

  • “The philosopher discussed existential questions about the meaning of life.”
  • “Another example of ‘existential’ in a sentence is ‘She experienced an existential crisis when she turned thirty.'”

Cultural or Historical Notes

The development of the word “existential” was significantly influenced by existentialism, a philosophical movement that emerged in the 20th century, particularly through the works of philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre and Søren Kierkegaard. Existentialism focuses on individual freedom, choice, and the search for meaning in an often indifferent or absurd world.

The word “existential” reflects the importance of questions related to existence, being, and the human condition, emphasizing the role of personal experience, freedom, and responsibility in shaping one’s life and understanding of the world.