April 18, 2013

Case File #013.04.18: SCYTHE

The name for the Grim Reaper's favorite tool, scythe, is one of those few extant English words that date all the way back to the days of the original Anglo-Saxons, and though its spelling has changed a little over the years—the Old English form was sithe—its meaning has remained essentially the same. According to linguists, the word is semantically the direct descendant of the Proto-Germanic word segitho, which itself descended from the probable Indo-European root sek-, meaning “cut.” The shift in spelling from sithe to scythe occurred in the mid-fifteenth century, likely due to the influence of the Latin verb scindere, meaning “to divide” or “to split.” And yes, as that sharp mind of yours has surely guessed, that Latin term is also the ultimate source of the English word scissors.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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