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 1 – to divide, to split, to cut

Cleave, definition 2 – to stick, cling, adhere to something closely.

In my first post about it, I merely point out the oddity without actually looking at the history of the words (come on, Past Roseanna, what’s your deal? LOL), so I figured it was time to look into why these words have opposite meanings!
What I found is pretty interesting. Cleave (1) actually comes to us from Old English and was taken from the Proto-Germanic kleuban. There are many other old languages with similar words that all meant the same thing: the divide, to split by force. This was considered a very strong verb back in the Old English days.

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.

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