• cleave •
kleev • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb
Meaning: 1. To split asunder or separate into two pieces. 2. To cling or adhere to firmly.
Notes: Today's Good Word seems be a 'contronym', a word with two opposing meanings, like sanction, which means "to approve", but also "to punish". Today, however, we have not one but two different verbs (for the same low price of one). That we are dealing with two words is clear from the forms of these words. (1) The past tense of cleave "to cling to" is cleaved and the past participle is cleaved. (2) The past tense of cleave "to split asunder" is either cleft or clove while the past participle is cleft, as in cleft palate, or cloven, as in cloven hoof. The confusion in cleave2 is indicative of a rarely used verb.
In Play: The meanings of these two verbs are so discrete that it is easy to use them in one sentence with opposite meanings: "She cleaved to him so tightly it would have taken a crowbar to cleave them." The household uses of these words are so copious that it is difficult to understand why they are falling into disuse: "Woody, would you please cleave us some more firewood before the guests arrive." Now, doesn't that sound much less choppy than the alternative?
Word History: The first Good Word we get today is from Old English clifian, akin to German kleben "to stick." The sticky Proto-Indo-European word that these are derived from also produced clay, Russian glina "clay". It also produced two Latin words for "glue", glus and gluten, both of which English borrowed. Today's second Good Word is from Old English cleofan, related to Swedish klyva "to split," Latin glubere "to peel," and Greek glyphein "to carve". The Greek word is most prominent in the English borrowed word hieroglyph "sacred carving", derived from hieros "sacred" + glyphe "carving, engraving". (Lest forgetfulness cleave me from them, let me deeply thank all the editors of our daily Good Words, Paul Ogden, Luciano de Oliveira, and Mary Jane Stoneburg for cleaving to the task of providing their daily gift to all of us.)
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