Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

To split or cut

To split or cut

We English-speakers (& users of the languages that preceded English) have done a whole lot of splitting & cutting. All the following words (& a bunch I couldn’t fit into this post) come from one Proto-Indo-European source. Etymologists write this word *skei-. It meant to cut or split.

It gave us the word shingle, a piece of wood split from a larger piece. The idea that a shingled roof involves overlapping pieces also gave us the meaning overlapping stones on the shore. It also gave us the idiom to hang out one’s shingle, & a hairstyle involving overlapping layers.

Appearing in Old English (some time between 400 & 1000 AD), the word shin appears to have come from the knowledge that the fibula in the lower leg appears to have split off from the larger tibia.

Shed also showed up in Old English, meaning to divide, separate, part company or discriminate. In modern usage, we still see this meaning in the phrase to shed one’s skin & in the term watershed, in which drops of rain falling on one side of a mountain are divided from the drops of rain fallowing on the opposite side.

Shiver, originally a small piece, fragment or splinter, came from *skei-, as did shiver, to break into small pieces, however the shivering we might do when cold or frightened comes from a different source altogether.
Coming to English in 1883 we have the word ski, which came from *skei- through Old Norse from a word meaning a long stick of wood — one split from a larger piece.

The root *skei- also made its way through Greek & Latin to arrive in English as the combining form schizo-, which gave us - among other words - schizophrenic, reflecting a condition originally understood to involve a split personality.

Though etymologists still argue over the origin of the word ship, one school of thought maintains ship came from *skei-  because the building of the earliest vessels involved the cutting or hollowing of a tree

And because knowledge involves distinguishing (or splitting) one thing from another, we have the words science, prescience, omniscience, conscience, & many others.

All from cutting & splitting. Who knew?

If you found all this intriguing or surprising, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.



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