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From signum ("sign") we have a diminutive form sigillum, "little sign", whence in particular: "wax seal made by one's ring print", to close and sign a letter or a box, which is of course a very common practice in classic Rome and somehow even today. Indeed the English word seal comes from it --but not seal as marine mammal, of course. (Btw, in classic Rome sigillum is also a little wax statue, to be used for that purpose). And there is a verb sigillare for the corresponding action; later, with the extended meaning of just "to close off", which is e.g. also the current Italian meaning). Late and vulgar Latin has also an alternative form sugellare or suggellare with the same meaning (and suggellare is also an antiquate Italian form for sigillare, in use since the XIX-th century). So far, so good.

Classic Latin has also a well attested verb sugillare, from sugo, sugere (to suck), meaning "to mark with bruises" (Plin, Sen, Varr), e.g. oculus sugillatus ex ictu, "shiner", and as a derivate meaning, to insult. Therefore sugillare and sigillare are two classic Latin terms, close in spelling and in meaning, but with different etymology. Besides, how is "to mark with bruises" logically connected to "to suck"?

My conjectural explanation: isn't the original meaning of the verb sugillare "to make a love bite"? In this case, it may even be from a substantive *sugillum, coined as a pun on sigillum, and then ironically used from the signs of a punch (like when we say "caress" for "slap"). But, I can find no trace of this funny explanation.

Edit I learned that the Spanish term for love bite/hickey is sugilación. This seems to confirm the conjecture, but then, if the original meaninig is really “hickey”, why there is no trace of it?

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  • 1
    There must be a word for love bite in classical Latin, e.g. in Martial or other erotic poets. But what is it?
    – fdb
    Commented Oct 17, 2021 at 15:01
  • 2
    @fdb e.g. Propertius 3.8.21-22"in morso aequales videant mea vulnera collo: me doceat livor mecum habuisse meam." and 4.5.39-40 "semper habe morsus circa tua colla recentis, dentibus alterius quos putet esse datos"
    – Alex B.
    Commented Oct 17, 2021 at 17:54
  • 2
    also Tibullus 1.16.13-14 "tunc sucos herbasque dedi quis livor abiret quem facit impresso mutua dente venus." There are even more examples mentioned in Hutchinson 2006
    – Alex B.
    Commented Oct 17, 2021 at 18:01
  • 1
    @AlexB. ...sucos .... Is this a pun?
    – fdb
    Commented Oct 17, 2021 at 21:36
  • 1
    @fdb it could be, but I'm not so sure
    – Alex B.
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 15:25

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