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 (as in shiver me timbers), 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.
Thanks to this week’s sources, Etymonline.com, the OED, Merriam-Webster, Collins English Dictionary, & Wordnik.com.
Inspired by my little recording/writing space out in the veggie garden (known as the shedio), I find myself intrigued by the etymologies (or lack thereof) of shed & its various synonyms.
Shed is of questionable parentage. It appeared in English in the 1400s. It may have its roots in the word shade, but no certain evidence has jumped forth into the sunlight to prove this theory.
Similarly, the term shack has no definite parentage. It first appeared in print in 1878. Some etymologists argue that it may be a variant of shake, or may have come from ramshackle (both of which predate it). Others claim it might have come from the Nahuatl word xacalli, wooden hut, through Mexican Spanish. Still nobody really knows from whence the word shack came.
The word hovel isn’t really a synonym for shack or shed, but a hovel is a small building, & I have a fondness for the word. I lived a year in a place friends & family referred to as "hovel sweet hovel." It was one of seven tiny, decrepit buildings near San Luis Obispo Creek. I had to duck to enter, it wasn't possible to close the bathroom door if one was sitting on the toilet, & the mushrooms growing from the floor were not an interior decorating decision. Hovel showed up in English back in the 1300s, meaning a vent for smoke, & within a century had come to mean a shed for animals. It wasn’t until the 1600s that it came to mean a rude or miserable cabin. This last definition is particularly apropos for my hovel. I learned afterward that the compound of seven hovels had been used in the 1940s to house the county’s Japanese residents as they waited to be delivered to internment camps. Misery indeed.
So, dear readers, please leave a comment with a tidbit of a tale regarding any shed, shack, or hovel experiences you’ve “enjoyed.”
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, etymonline.com, merriam-webster.com, & the OED.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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