Printable Version
Pronunciation: spawl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, verb

Meaning: 1. (Noun) A chip, flake, splinter, or other fragment from a piece of stone, ore, or other hard substance. 2. (Verb, transitive) To break into smaller fragments, as for sorting; to chip off. 3. (Verb, intransitive) To break up into fragments.

Notes: This word may be a variant of spale, which has the same meaning. The detachment of small nuclei from a larger one is known in physics as spallation, but the present participle, spalling, serves as adjective and noun for other uses. Someone who fragments stones into smaller pieces is called a spaller.

In Play: The noun use is useful when driving through mountainous countryside: "High, heavy fencing had been erected along the highway to catch the spalls from the rocky mountainside." The verbal use seems in use more widely: "Water freezing on roofing tiles can cause them to spall or crack."

Word History: Today's Good Word and spale were taken from the same Old Germanic source as German spalten "to split" and Danish spilde "lose, spill, waste". The Germanic languages probably inherited their words from PIE (s)pel- "to split, break off", source also of Greek aspalon "skin, hide," Latin spolium "skin, hide", Lithuanian spaliai "chaff", Latvian spals "handle", and, without the Fickle S, Russian polot' "weed", something you would want to separate from your garden. With metathesis, it could be the ultimate source of English split and German spliessen "to split". (Another newcomer, Susan Maynard, has earned our gratitude for recommending today's more widely useful than used Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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