Friday, 31 July 2009

ski and shyster

ski is borrowed from Norwegian ski, from Old Norse skið "snow-shoe, billet of cleft wood". This is from Proto-Germanic *skītan "to separate, defecate" from Proto-Indo-European *skei- "to cut, split" (written about before by me).

According to the AHD, shyster is probably from the same Proto-Germanic form, from German Scheißer "son of a bitch, bastard" from scheißen "to defecate". But the OED says "of obscure origin".

Modern Norwegian ski is pronounced like she, but presumably the form that was borrowed into English was pronounced with /sk/. In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 short "Snow Thrills" we are told that the correct pronunciation of skiing is "she-ing". To which Joel responds "Yeah, well you're full of skit."

Proto-Germanic *sk- becoming /sk/ in some languages and /ʃ/ in others gives us some cool doublets, for instance:
scatter - shatter
skiff - ship
skirt - shirt
skit - shit
scot(-free) - shot
screed - shred
scuffle - shuffle


Jonathon said...

Cool. I knew about a few of those doublets, but not all of them.

vp said...

"presumably the form that was borrowed into English was pronounced with /sk/."

I'm not so sure. Some older language guides recommend the "she" pronunciation. I did a quick search on Google Books, and found this link from 1890:

"Although many people know what ski are, a great many more have not the slightest idea, and insist on calling them ' sky.' A man can easily rectify this mistake by thinking of she, and as he sees in his mind's eye some beautiful maiden he will be framing the word correctly, for ' she ' is the proper pronunciation."

Interesting that it criticizes a pronunciation like "sky", and also uses "ski" as the plural.

goofy said...

vp: awesome, thank you.

vp said...

I looked today in John Wells's Longman Pronouncing Dictionary (1990 ed.). It says that the "she" pronunciation was recommended by the BBC in the 1930s, although it is now completely obsolete.

goofy said...

The OED has "she" as one of the spellings.