Printable Version
Pronunciation: ski-zêm, si-zêm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A cleft, split or division between two irreconcilable groups, like the Great Schism, the breach in the Catholic Church between the western (Roman) and eastern (Byzantine, Orthodox) branches in 1054.

Notes: However you pronounce this word, it is spelled schism. The adjective for this word requires the Greek suffix -at, schismatic. Like many adjectives ending on -ic, it may be further extended by meaningless -al, schismatical. As usual, we MUST use the extended form for the adverb, schismatically. Schismatic works as well as a noun referring to someone who supports a schism. The verb meaning "split apart" is schismatize.

In Play: We find schisms everywhere: "The schism between the X-generation and the old generation is wide, indeed." But the word is used mostly in reference to organizations where a division of opinion exists: "The schism between the Democratic and Republican parties' view of politics has never been wider than today."

Word History: English borrowed this word from Latin schisma, borrowed from Greek skhisma, the noun for the verb skhizein "to split". Greek built its word from PIE skei- "to cut, split", source also of Latin scindere "to slit", a noun from which is scissor "a carver", borrowed by English for its scissors. German converted the PIE word into schneiden "to cut", and Lithuanian into skaidyti "to divide, separate". The same PIE root made its way through our Germanic ancestors to Old Norse as skidh "board, stick, snowshoe" and on down to Norwegian ski. Old English made two words out of it: sceath "sheath", and scitan "to defecate", which worked its way into the grand band of current Modern English four-letter words. (Now a bow to Anna Jung for recommending today's rather divisive Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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