Thursday, March 30, 2023

Language Of Confusion: Maximum Carnage, Part III

We’re back looking at words from the Proto Indo European root sker-, to cut. So far, the words have all had carn- or cur-/cor- in them, but now it’s time to look at words that also have an S in them, just like their progenitor.
First, score, which does look a lot like sker-. It showed up in the late fourteenth century meaning to score a point, but it showed up even earlier as another word for twenty—they definitely are related, I’m just not really sure how it went from twenty to just tallying (maybe they were tallying by twenties?). Both come from the Old English scoru, which is from the Old Norse skor, a word directly from the PIE.
Then there’s scar, which actually has two meanings, a mark on skin and a cliff face, and… the skin marking might not be from sker-. The skin mark showed up in the late fourteenth century, and while it might have been influence in some way by score, it doesn’t seem to actually be related to it. The other scar showed up later, in the seventeenth century (though it showed up earlier spelled scarre, just like the skin scar was). It’s from the Old Norse sker, a rocky path at the bottom of the sea, from to Proto Germanic sker-, which of course is from the PIE sker-. So a cut in the bottom of the sea is related, a cut in a mountain is related, but a healed cut in skin is not related.
Scrape actually makes a little more sense in this regard. It showed up in the early thirteenth century as scrapen and meant to erase with a knife, and in the fourteenth century to remove the outer layer of something with a tool. It’s thought to be from the Old Norse skrapa, to scrape or erase, from the Proto Germanic skrapojan, and Proto Indo European skerb-, which is from sker-. Scrap is very close in origin, having shown up in the late fourteenth century, from the Old Norse skrap—so missing the last vowel. And skrap is actually from skrapa, so it all ties together nicely.
Here’s one that might make a little less sense. Scrabble showed up in the mid sixteenth century, but back then it meant to scrawl or scribble, (at least the name of the game Scrabble makes more sense now) or scrape at with your hands, before meaning to struggle in the seventeenth century. It’s from the Dutch schrabbelen, another word from sker-. Also possibly related is scramble, which showed up in the late sixteenth century and is thought to actually be a variant of scrabble. When it showed up, it also meant to struggle along (not meaning to toss together until 1822) so it does make sense. I mean, kind of.
Online Etymology Dictionary
University of Texas at Austin Linguistic Research Center
University of Texas at San Antonio’s page on Proto Indo European language
Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. Those actually make sense. It makes me suspicious when they make sense.

  2. But why score for twenty? I can see from that, but how did it get there?


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