Like so many others, my wife and I loved the Sense8 series that ran from 2015–2018. We eagerly watched the seasons as they came out, and then later binge-watched the whole thing again. In the series, eight individuals shared their senses and thoughts. So, I never bothered to think much about the title, beyond it being some sort of play on the word sense and the number eight.
I even remember reading term sensate in a few of the Netflix episode descriptions, yet still wasn’t moved to look the word up. Sensate seemed a made-up word to describe the eight main characters in the series.
And, while sensate was indeed the word used to describe characters with the special connections / abilities shown in the show, the word itself was far from invented for that purpose. It came to our language from the Latin sensus and dates back in English to at least circa 1500, as it turns out, with the earliest known usage by Henry Medwall, the “first known English vernacular dramatist” according to the great Wiki. In his play Nature, he writes:
Reason syr my chyef conselour
And thys innocency / my noryce hyderto
And sensualyte that other / by whom I haue power
To do / as all sensate bestys do
But reason and innocency / chyefly these two
Haue the hole rule / and gouerny of me
To meke ys subdued / my sensualyte sensua
I wouldn’t put too much stock in the accuracy of the above. It’s from the only online source I could find for that, and looks inaccurate on many counts. Still, the sensate adjective is definitely correct (as it is noted by the Oxford English Dictionary). And who doesn’t love what looks like the phrase sensate beasties anyway? (Though, it’s probably just beasts. But, let’s go with beasties, if only for entertainment value.)
And so, for more than half a millennium prior to the Wachowski’s, the word has been there, and has always described (among other things) that which is endowed with physical senses. All humans and animals are sensate, as may be other living things like plants.
If one wanted to really dig down into the technicalities of words like sensate or its more common cousin sensation, there’s probably a discussion to be had about whether we should limit definitions to physical touch versus all of the senses. But, for all practical purposes, I’m happy with as broad a reference as one might apply to it, especially as this point in the English word’s 500-plus-year history.
Sensate goes beyond merely having the ability to perceive via the senses, of course. By the mid 1600s, it picked up its verbial sense and, thus, to sensate was (and still is) to feel, to perceive, to have a sensation. Sensate beings sensate, in other words. Thus, the Sense8 name for the sensates in Sense8 was spot on; they were sensates (in a special sense, beyond the normal human condition, which is also sensate) and they indeed sensated (also beyond the normal human range for sensation). Make sense? I sensate that it does.
✍🏻 Jim Dee maintains his personal blog, “Hawthorne Crow,” a web design blog, “Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine,” and a vocabulary blog, “Wonderful Words, Defined.” He also contributes to various Medium.com publications. Find him at JPDbooks.com, his Amazon Author page, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Medium, or via email at Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. His latest novel, CHROO, is available on Amazon.com. If you enjoy humorous literary tales, please grab a copy!