Years spent around the endless praise of arts journalists may have warped my thinking, but I feel like when people use the word today, they’re most often using it in the context of creativity — a seminal book is one so original that it prompts the existence of later works. But even that use — planting a metaphorical seed — goes back to the primary definition listed in Merriam-Webster: “of, relating to or consisting of seed or semen,” as in seminal vesicles. Etymonline says that the generative sense of the word has been in use since at least the 1630s.
So remember: The next time someone refers to a book or album or film or artwork as being seminal, you’re not only allowed but encouraged to ask whether this thing is generative or just covered in semen. If someone objects, just explain, “Hey, there’s thing called etymology, you clod.”
Suggested topic of conversation for dinner parties: “Hey, can anyone guess why the disco anthem ‘Hot Stuff’ is doubly seminal?”
Words that are surprisingly sexual, previously: