schism (skĭzəm, sĭz-)
1. A separation or division into factions: “[He] found it increasingly difficult to maintain party unity in the face of ideological schism over civil rights” (Nick Kotz).
a. A formal breach of union within a religious body, especially a Christian church.
b. The offense of attempting to produce such a breach.
[Middle English scisme, from Old French, from Latin schisma, schismat-, from Greek skhisma, from skhizein, to split; see skei- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Usage Note: The word schism, originally spelled scisme, cisme, and sisme in English, was formerly pronounced (sĭzəm), without a (k) sound, as if it were etymologically related to scissors. (It isn't, or at least not in any straightforward way; see the Word History below.) The modern spelling with the h dates to the 1500s, when the word was respelled to resemble its Latin and Greek ancestors. The pronunciation with (k), (skĭzəm), was once regarded as incorrect, but over the decades it has gained acceptability to the point where it now predominates in standard American usage. In our 2016 survey, 82 percent of the Usage Panel indicated that they use (skĭzəm), while 14 percent said they use (sĭzəm). A third pronunciation, (shĭzəm), was preferred by just 4 percent. In 1997, the figures were 61 percent, 31 percent, and 8 percent, respectively, indicating that (skĭzəm) may one day be the word's only common pronunciation.
Word History: Though scissors is technically not cognate with schism, its current spelling is influenced by the unrelated classical Latin word scissor, which meant “cutter.” And that scissor was formed from sciss-, the past participle stem of scindō (“to split/cleave/cut/tear apart”), which was indeed cognate with schism.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.