late 14c., possessen, "to hold, occupy, inhabit" (without regard to ownership), a back formation from possession and in part from Old French possesser "to have and hold, take, be in possession of" (mid-13c.), from Latin possessus, past participle of possidere "to have and hold, hold in one's control, be master of, own," probably a compound of potis "having power, powerful, able" (from PIE root *poti- "powerful; lord") + sedere, from PIE root *sed- (1) "to sit."
According to Buck, Latin possidere was a legal term first used in connection with real estate. The meaning "to hold as property" in English is recorded from c. 1500. That of "to seize, take possession of" is from 1520s; the demonic sense of "have complete power or mastery over, control" is recorded from 1530s (implied in possessed); the weakened sense of "fascinate, enthrall, affect or influence intensely" is by 1590s. Related: Possessed; possessing. The other usual Latin verb for "to possess," tenere, originally was "to hold," then "occupy, possess" (see tenet).
updated on September 11, 2020