Printable Version
Pronunciation: skreed Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A long speech or writing, especially a tedious one. 2. (Ireland, Scotland, Newfoundland) A scrap, shred of fabric. 3. A narrow strip of some material, especially placed on a surface as a guide to thickness. 4. Flooring or wall finish undercoating.

Notes: In northern England, Ireland, and Scotland this word is used as a verb meaning "to rip, tear", as 'to screed a fabric'. Those who write screeds or spread a smooth undercoating on walls or floors are known as screeders.

In Play: Obviously, the last two meanings of today's Good Word are used only by sophisticated carpenters, so we will focus on the more prominent first one: "This morning the boss went into a long screed about the importance of coming to work on time." Screeds may be written, too: "His letter to the editor was a confusing screed about imagined misdeeds of the city fathers."

Word History: In Middle English today's word was screed "fragment, strip of cloth" from Old English screade "shred", which also went on via one of the dialects to become shred. It is akin to German scheren "to shear, dock, crop" from the PIE root (s)ker-/(s)kor-"to cut". Latin did not preserve the Fickle S, so the same root turned out as caro (carn-) "flesh, meat" in Latin, an edible we must cut. The Latin word may be seen in various English borrowings from Latin, carnal, carnivorous, incarnate, and carnival. The last word was a Latin compound made up of carne (the ablative case of caro) + levare "to remove". In Old Italian it was carnelevare "Shrovetide", the pre-Lenten season of merry-making. Today it is carnevale, whence English borrowed it. Lent, of course, was marked by fasting—no meat. (We need not resort to a screed to thank Gala Xavier for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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