"J.T. Rules." Doodle by me.
“J.T. Rules.” Doodle by me.

For most students across the states, school is back in session this week–if the luxurious leisure of summer has not already ceded to new seat assignments or syllabuses. (Yes, syllabuses: I think the perfectly functional English plural is just fine.)

Many teachers, however, may take a lesson from the etymology of school.


With widespread cognates, the word comes down from the Old English scol, acquired from the Latin schola, in turn from the Greek skhole.

On a literal level, the Greek skhole referred to a “holding back,” “halt,” or “pause.” This came to signify “spare time,” “leisure,” “rest,” and “ease,” according to Liddell and Scott. Later, the word referred to “that in which leisure is employed,” which, for Ancient Greeks, took the particular form of holding “learned discussions.” The word also came to name places where such discussions were held, hence a school.

With Greek cognates including schemeepochhectic, eunuch (who were originally harem guardians), the name Hector, as well as the Germanic Siegfried and Sigmund, the Proto-Indo-European root is *segh-, “to hold.”

Skholastikos, source of scholastic? “Enjoying leisure.” For this, I think every student in the middle of painful PowerPoint dreams the so-called “etymological fallacy” were true. Except that your professor would still win the day, for that leisure would have been properly devoted to…learning.

Leisure? Learned discussions? Oh, how times have changed–just like words and their meanings have, etymology reminds us. Or maybe we all just need better conversation partners.

But not really.

The best educators know that students are social–that learning is social. They work to harness–not extinguish–our innate desire to talk to each other. And I believe if many of us think back to our fondest teachers, we think of the ones who knew how to facilitate a truly engaging discussion. (And who probably didn’t use education-speak words like “facilitate.”)

m ∫ r ∫


2 thoughts on “school

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