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Q&A

How did 'solicit' semantically shift to signify ‘manage affairs’?

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I don't understand the semantic shift from sollicitāre ‘disturb, agitate’ to the meaning of "manage affairs", probably because "disturb, agitate" pejoratively connotes discontentment and upheaval, but "manage affairs" neutrally (or even positively) connotes business or transactions. So this shift in connotation also baffles me.

For example, in some Commonwealth countries' split legal profession, a "solicitor" signifies a lawyer for non-contentious matters who provides general advice. A solicitor doesn't "disturb, agitate" in 2021 English meanings of these verbs.

solicit [15]

The ultimate source of solicit is Latin sollicitus ‘agitated’, which also gave English solicitous [16]. It was a compound adjective, formed from _sollus _‘whole’ (source also of English solemn) and citus, the past participle of ciēre ‘move’ (source of English cite, excite, etc) – hence literally ‘completely moved’. From it was formed the verb sollicitāre‘disturb, agitate’, which passed into English via Old French solliciter. By the time it arrived it had acquired the additional meaning ‘manage affairs’, which lies behind the derived solicitor [15]; and the original ‘disturb’ (which has since died out) gave rise in the 16th century to ‘trouble with requests’.
      French insouciant, borrowed by English in the 19th century, goes back ultimately to Latin sollicitāre.

Word Origins (2005 2e) by John Ayto, p 467 Left column.

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You are trying to absorb too many centuries in the stride at once.

I don't know what happened between Latin and Middle French, but by the time the (French noun) "soliciteur" got derived from the (French verb) "soliciter", the meanings involved seems to be like "to ask/request with urgency", "to ask/request with earnestness", or perhaps "to ask/request with the proper status to have the request considered". In short, a "soliciteur" was a professional pleader, someone capable of acting as someone's agent. That's the meaning of "manager of (somebody's) affairs"; and as a special meaning, if the affairs were of legal nature, then it means the kind of a lawyer who can represent their clients at a court. Middle English borrowed both the verb and the noun and some of those general and specialized (legal) meanings.

I suggest that you look up the etymology of "serious" from Latin "serius".
Yes it means something unrelated, it's just a parallel semantic development for comparison.

The development from Latin "serius" (something important, potentially menacing) to modern English "serious" (something just real enough as to be difficult to completely dismiss) is perhaps a shift in an parallel direction to the development from Latin "sollicitus" to French "soliciter" - but the meaning travelled a shorter distance, and it is perhaps easier to pin point what the shift has been also because the mediaeval legal specialization of the term is absent in case of "serious".

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