1. to divide by or as if by a cutting blow : split;
2. to separate into distinct parts and especially into groups having divergent views;
3. to penetrate or pass through something by or as if by cutting.

1. The ship’s bow cleaved through the water.
2. “Of course, single-item restaurants are nothing new. …. But they don’t usually serve something so divisive as polenta. You see, the slow-cooked dish of maize cleaves opinion like a Justin Bieber concert. You either love it or loathe it—and ever has it been so.” — From an article by Samuel Muston in The Independent (London), January 31, 2014.

“Cleave” has two homographs. There is “cleave” meaning “to adhere firmly and closely or loyally and unwaveringly,” as in “The family cleaves to tradition.” That “cleave” comes from Old English “clifian” (“to adhere”). The second “cleave” (our featured word today) derives from Old English “cleōfan,” meaning “to split.” It inflects similarly to the verb “speak”: “cleaved,” “clove,” “cloven,” and “cleaving” (with the occasional past tense “cleft”). The other “cleave” inflects regularly, with the exception of “clove” or “clave” as options to denote the past.

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  • March 9, 2014
  • Word

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