Following up on yesterday’s discussion, we note that Latin scire ‘to know’ developed from the Indo-European root *skei- ‘to cut.’ The metaphor was that knowing is ‘a cutting through things with the mind,’ just as we can still speak of a person with a sharp mind. A Greek descendant of the Indo-European root was skhizein ‘to split,’ from which we have cisma/schism ‘a division between opposing parties.’ (And English speakers are split over how to pronounce schism: some say skizm and others sizm). Since the early 20th century a person with a ‘split’ or ‘divided’ mind may be said to suffer from esquizofrenia/schizophrenia. The Spanish version looks like it started out to be the word esquí ‘ski’ but went off course and kept going for a while before putting on the frenos. Levity aside, the resemblance to esquí isn’t just a coincidence. The Old Norse word from which we’ve borrowed esquí/ski is in fact a relative, because people originally made skis from split-off pieces of wood.
© 2010 Steven Schwartzman