As a result of drowsiness or weariness, or even to threaten, humans and animals alike perform the action of yawning. Such an act is known as oscitation. Not to be confused with pandiculation which is the stretching and stiffening of the torso accompanied by a yawn when drowsy. Oscitation is just the act of yawning while pandiculation is what accompanies it. Number of theories exist to explain why people and animals yawn but it is known that numerous triggers are responsible for the behaviour.
Oscitation dates back to the 1540‘s, from Late Latin oscitationem and noun of action from past participle stem of oscitare. Oscitant, the adjective for yawning, dull, or negligent is from the Latin word oscitans, present participle of oscitare “to gape, yawn” from os citare “to move the mouth”. The verb “cite” found as a root in oscitant dates back to mid-15c., “to summon”, from 14c., Old French citer, pertaining to ciere “to move, to set in motion, rouse” from Proto-Indo-European root keie (cf. Greek kinein “to move”; Gothic haitan “call, be called”; Old English hatan “command, call”). Related to cited or citing a passage of writing which was first attested in the 1530’s.
Since oscitation is associated with the mouth the presence of oral in the word is apparent more in its earlier origins. The earliest date associated with oral is the 1620’s, from Late Latin oralis, from Latin os “mouth, opening, face, entrance,” from Proto-Indo-European os-/ous- “mouth”. The prefix “os-” is also seen in osculation “kissing; a kiss”, 1650’s, from Latin osculationem.
In society today, oscitation is rarely used and instead replaced with yawning. Just like the evolution of yawning which started as a way to prepare oneself for danger to making your body alert with the act of stretching the face, so has the use of the word. Oscitation also means sleepy; drowsy; dull; sluggish; careless, all states of the body and mind one quickly associates with yawning because of the increase of yawning during those states.
The word yawn dates back to c.1300, yenen, yonen, from Old English ginian, gionen “to open mouth wide, gape” and the act of yawning from the 1690’s. Whether yawning is connected with the brain’s temperature or level of carbon dioxide, the desire to stretch muscles, or the same chemicals that affect our moods and emotions, it seems to be disconnected with oscitation these days. The word is now more often used, but still rare, in reference to sluggishness or dullness resembling that of sleepiness.
1. Wikipedia, Yawn, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yawn
2. Wikipedia, Pandiculation, http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/pandiculation
3. Dictionary.com, oscitant, http://dictionary.reference.com/wordoftheday/archive/2010/06/17.html
4. Online Etymology Dictionary, “oscitant”, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=oscitant&allowed_in_frame=0
5. Online Etymology Dictionary, “cite”, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=cite&allowed_in_frame=0
6. Online Etymology Dictionary, “oral”, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=oral&allowed_in_frame=0