• shoal •
shol • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A sandbar, a shallower spot in a body of water. 2. A crowd of sea life swimming together in large numbers, a school of sea life.
Notes: As the Word History will show, the good doctor is offering two words for the price of one today—call it our spring clearance sale. The first word has a (rarely used) adjective, shoaly, that describes a stretch of water with lots of sandbars or shallows. This, of course, opens the door for shoaliness, which brings tears to my young spellchecker's eyes.
In Play: It is more common these days to refer to a group of fish as a "school" of fish than a "shoal" of fish, but both words have been used in this same sense for more than 500 years: "Wade Rivers likes to fish the shoals of mullet that swarm around a shoal 50 yards off the beach." Since shallow spots are threats to all forms of boating, we are allowed metaphorical extensions like this: "May Day seems to run aground on all the shoals of life."
Word History: The first shoal is a variant of shallow that was popular some time ago in the phrase shoal water. This word shared a source with shale, a stone that comes in thin layers or slices, suggesting that the original root referred to cutting. The second shoal was borrowed from Middle Dutch schole "crowd". Old English had a word scolu "(army) troop, division" that came from the same source, a Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root meaning "to cut, divide". So apparently one PIE word developed into two words with two meanings (division, slice) and now, in English, the two variants have merged again in sound but not meaning.