This morning, I referred to myself as being ensconced in my current life situation, and uninterested in looking for a job outside the Philly area. Lovely word, ensconced — it carries a touch of coziness with it.
Since I’m reconsidering the placement of some stuff in my house currently keeping me ensconced — including a sconce — it suddenly occurred to me, what’s the connection between the words “ensconced” and “sconce”? It seems darned unlikely that the former originally meant “to be like a lighting fixture on a wall,” but was there some earlier meaning from which both words had split off?
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “sconce” dates back to the late 14th century (i.e., the 1300s), when it came to be used for a candlestick with a screen. That screened or shaded candlestick came to be attached to the wall about a half century later. The word itself comes from the French esconce (lantern), which comes, ultimately, from the Latin abscondere (to hide). (In modern English, of course, “abscond” means to depart stealthily.)
“Ensconce” is about 200 years younger. It was first used in the 1580s to mean “to cover with a fort,” and probably comes from the Dutch schans (earthwork).
So sconce and abscond are akin, while ensconced is of a completely separate etymological descent.