One of my very first Words of the Week was the word cleave. I’ve long found it interesting that the word has two meanings, which are opposite each other:
Cleave, definition 2 – to stick, cling, adhere to something closely.
But then as the years went on and English evolved into what we now call Middle English, the second cleave came along…from a totally different word. This one is from the West-Germanic klibajan, meaning “to stick.” Again, other languages have similar words that reflect this meaning.
Apparently from the get-go there was some confusion about the two meanings, because Cleave (1) had, by then, weakened a bit as a verb. It was no longer so strong and forceful a word, so introducing Cleave (2) that meant the opposite kinda messed with it even more, and also contributed to its continued weakening.
These days, we don’t often use either, and I have to wonder if in part it’s because of that confusion.
I'd always thought it had fallen out of use for confusion with conjugation:
"She picked up her cleaver and cleft the steak in two."
"She picked up her cleaver and clove the steak in two."
"She picked up her cleaver and cleaved the steak in two."
And if you want to be archaic, "She picked up her cleaver and clave the steak in two."
All are correct simple past forms of the verb, along with similar past participles (has cleft, has cloven, has cleaved). But we're not used to having so many available options, so people assume they can't all be right. But add that in with the dual meanings . . . No wonder people are reluctant to use it.