Saturday, March 20, 2010


Scatology and Science

Edith Hall, "Classics, Class, and Cloaca: Harrison's Humane Coprology," Arion 15.2 (April 2007) 111-136 (at 118, with note on p. 134):
...the Indo-European etymological root from which "scatology" derives is ultimately the same as the root of scire, "to know"20...

20Ralph A. Lewin, Merde: Excursions in Scientific, Cultural and Sociohistorical Coprology (London 1999), 5.
In my copy of Lewin's book (New York: Random House, 1999), this is on p. 3 (not 5):
The word "science," meaning knowledge, and the word "shit," from the Old English scitan, both apparently derive from the same ancient Indo-European root, as does the Greek word from which scatology is derived.
Lewin cites no authority or evidence, but he is correct, according to Calvert Watkins, "Indo-European Roots," in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1979), pp. 1505-1550.

Watkins s.v. sker-4 (at 1540):
Excrement, dung. Extended root of sek-, "to cut, separate," hence "to void excrement." 1. Lengthened o-grade form *skōr- in Greek skōr (genitive skatos < *sk-ṇt-), dung: SCATO-, SCORIA, SKATOLE. 2. Extended form *skert- in taboo metathesis *sterk- in: a. Latin stercus, dung: STERCORACEOUS; b. variant forms *(s)terg-, *(s)treg- in Germanic *threkka- in Middle High German drëc, dung: DRECK. [Pok. sker-d- 947; 8. (s)ter- 1031.]
Watkins s.v. skei- (at 1539):
To cut, split. Extended root of sek-. 1. Latin scire, to know (< "to separate one thing from another," "discern"): SCIENCE, SCILICET, SCIOLISM, SCIRE FACIAS; ADSCITITIOUS, CONSCIENCE, CONSCIOUS, NESCIENT, NICE, OMNISCIENT, PLEBISCITE, PRESCIENT. 2. Germanic suffixed form *ski-nōn- in: a. Old English scinu, shin, shinbone (< "piece cut off"): SHIN1; b. Old French eschine, backbone, piece of meat with part of the backbone: CHINE1. 3. Suffixed zero-grade form skiy-enā in Old Irish scīan, knife: SKEAN. 4. Extended root *skeid- in a. Germanic *skītan, to separate, defecate, in (i) Old English *scītan, to defecate: SHIT (ii) Old Norse *skīta, to defecate: SKATE3; b. suffixed zero-grade form *sk(h)id-yo in Greek skhizein, to split: SCHEDULE, SCHISM, SCHIST, SCHIZO-; c. nasalized zero-grade form: *ski-n-d- in Latin scindere, to split: SCISSION; EXSCIND, PRESCIND, RESCIND. 5. Extended root *skeit- in: a. Germanic *skaith- in (i) Old English scēadan, to separate: SHED1 (ii) perhaps Old English scēath, sheath (< "split stick"): SHEATH; b. Germanic *skīth- in Old Norse skīdh, log, stick, snowshoe: SKI; c. o-grade form *skoit- in Latin scūtum, shield (< "board"): ÉCU, ESCUDO, ESCUTCHEON, ESQUIRE, SCUDO, SCUTUM, SQUIRE. 6. Extended root *skeip- in Germanic *skif- in a. Old English *scife, pulley (< "piece of wood with grooves"): SHEAVE2; b. Middle Dutch and Middle Low German schīve, a slice: SHIVE1; c. Old Norse skīfa, to slice, split: SKIVE; d. Middle Low German schever, splinter, akin to the Low German source of Middle English scivre, splinter: SHIVER2. [Pok. skei 919.]
To summarize:

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