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cutting, hacking and scraping

We all know from experience that a scraped knee results in a scab.  In fact, both scrape and scab have the same origin.  The Indo-European root *skep- is the basis of many words with meanings related to cutting, hacking and scraping.  Many words which begin sc- also have variants with sh- thus, in Middle English, scab sometimes occurred as shab.  Thus, in 1290, St. Francis was described as "fulle of schabbe and of buyles [boils]".   Nowadays, the word shab is found only as the name of skin disease in sheep though its adjective, shabby, remains in common use.

If an ancient Indo-European wanted to make something he'd probably have to carve it out of wood.  Thus *skep-, a "cutting, hacking and scraping" word, became shape.  The meaning of shape, when applied figuratively, produced the English -ship, as in friendship and professorship (but not battleship) and the -scape of landscape.

The sk- of  *skep-  became h- in some cases.  Old French had hache ("axe") which gave us hatchet (a "little axe") and hash (something "chopped up").  Spanish has hacha "axe" which occurs in quebracho ("axe-breaker"), the name of a South American tree with medicinal properties.  The "cutting" sense of *skep-  is also seen in the word comma.  When we cut a sentence into smaller sections we use commas, from the Greek komtein "to strike, or cut".  Together with sarke-, "flesh", this verb also turns up in the name of a genus of parasitic mites, the Sarcoptes ("flesh-cutters").  Pet owners will recognize these pests as the cause of sarcoptic mange.

The root *skep- is the basis of many Latin words including scabere "to scratch",  which gave us scabies (an itchy  skin disease) and scabrous, meaning "rough, scratchy", and scapula, the shoulder-blade. The reason for the latter is that this flat, triangular bone was used for scraping.  Other "scrape" words from *skep- include shave and shaft.  It is assumed that shaft derives from the straightening of the spear-shafts by shaving or scraping,  Surprisingly, the Russian kopeck is a cousin of shaft.  In 1535, Tsar Ivan IV minted coins which showed him on horseback holding a lance.  The coin was consequently dubbed the kopeck (Russian, "little lance", from kopye "lance").

Then, of course, there's Schabzieger Käse, from German schaben, "to grate" (another *skep- descendant) + ziger, a kind of cheese.  Not heard of it? Perhaps it would help if we told you that in English it is sometimes called sapsago.  Still ringing no bells?   Very well, we'll tell you... it's a very hard Swiss cooking cheese which is a pastel shade of green, due to the addition of either melilot (from Greek meli- "honey" + lotos "lotus") or fenugreek (from Latin faenum graecum, "Greek hay").

OK, we confess that Schabzieger Käse is pretty obscure but Mike insisted we mention it.  Why?  Merely because, as a child, his brother Graham once mistook a piece of Schabzieger for a bar of soap and tried to wash his hands with it.  [Hi Gray!]

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