Writing, Dicing, and Slicing

Hey everyone! Here is another short post on some common similarities between English and Swedish (with a few other languages in the mix). I’d like to make these short etymology summaries a regular thing, as I find studying the history of words and how they relate through different languages helps with memorizing new vocabulary, and uncovers patterns I might not have noticed before. I’ll also work on some word clouds and visualizations to help identify clusters of similar or related words, and at the end of this post will include a vocabulary table of words I’ve written about. I hope this helps anyone else out there as much as it helps me. Once again, I’m not a linguist so please alert me to any mistakes, I’m just a language nerd with a little extra time on his hands these days.

A while back I started noticing some similarities between English and Swedish words relating to writing, cutting, and scratching. There seemed to be a common theme happening, so I decided to investigate. The starting point was the Swedish verb “skriva” (to write). I thought to myself “Hmm, that seems suspiciously close to the word scribe”. Looking through the etymology of the words confirmed what I had thought, and uncovered a whole slew of new connections I’d never considered. 

The Swedish verb skriva can be traces through Old Norse (scrifa), Proto-Germanic (*skrībaną), and appears to be borrowed into the Germanic languages from Latin (scrībō). I’ve even found several instances of the Indo-European root word *skrībh, which quite importantly meant “to cut, or separate”. This is super important, as almost all of the variants I’ve found in Swedish and English still have something to do with cutting, scratching, or separating something. Even that Latin word scribo seems to have a connotation of scratching something with a tool, which makes sense given early forms of writing were literally scratched and etched into a surface rather than being written with ink. 

Taking what we know about the descendents of these words and getting back to Swedish, we can find quite a few more vocabulary words by association. There is “skrivare”, which I assumed to be “writer” given the “are” suffix, but it’s actually the word for a “printer”! There is a related word for writer “skribent”, but I’m finding that to be a little archaic and not used much. Maybe someone out there can help me verify that. Another very close association with an English word is “inskriva”, literally “inscribe”, or “written in”. It’s amazing how little some of these words have changed over the years after they split apart. I’d like to keep this writeup more focused on Swedish, but here are a few more English words that have spawned from that scribo root in Latin: “Scribble, Scrawl, Script, Scripture, Scribe, Prescribe, Ascribe”. At some point I plan to dig up more Swedish connections from these offshoots, but for now I’d like to get back to the original root meaning of cutting or scratching a surface. 

Another common Swedish verb is skära (to cut). This goes back to a related Proto-Germanic word *skeraną (to cut, to shear). The meaning of this apparently split a little when it passed into Old Norse and Old English, but kept a related connotation. The Norse word, and direct ancestor of the Swedish “skära” was “skera”, which kept the sense of “to cut”, and the Old English version became “sċieran”. Many words that begin with SK sounds in Swedish have a related version that begins SH in English. This is what happened here, and “scieran” became “shear” in modern English, as in to shear a sheep. There are similar English/Swedish relationships between scrape/skrapa, slice/skiva, and shard/skärva
There are plenty of other examples out there, and I know these just scratch the surface, but hopefully you find it as interesting as I do! Let me know if you have more related words to add to the list, or if there are any other etymology branches I should check out. I usually jump between sources like etymonline.com, wiktionary.org, saob.se, and The History of English podcast by Kevin Stroud (I highly highly recommend this to anyone studying languages, it’s insanely detailed and covers a ton of history and etymology explaining how various languages transformed over time). Here is a super quick table of some of the words I’ve talked about. Thanks for reading!

Att SkrivaTo Write
En SkrivareA Printer
En SkribentA Writer
Att Inskriva To Inscribe
Att SkäraTo Cut
Att SkivaTo Slice
Att SkrapaTo Scrape
En SkärvaA Shard

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