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TV-Shew vs. TV-Show

Beim Abtip­pen der Vor­re­de zu Chris­ti­an Lud­wigs Teutsch-Eng­li­schem Wör­ter­buch von 1716 fie­len mir sei­ner­zeit sei­ne Satz­bei­spie­le mit »shew« auf, d.h. eigent­lich nur »shew« und das auch nur der merk­wür­di­gen Typen wegen, deret­we­gen da »to shevv« zu ste­hen scheint. Wie auch immer, mir dräng­te sich die Fra­ge auf, war­um ein deut­scher Wör­ter­buch­ma­cher sei­ner Kund­schaft »shew« anbie­ten soll­te statt des weit­aus bekann­te­ren »show«.

Shew, zei­gen, auch, ſchei­nen.
to fhew mer­cy, Barm­her­zig­keit erzei­gen.
to ſhew tricks, ſchlim­me Strei­che ſpie­len.
to ſhew reſ­pečt, Hoch­ach­tung bezei­gen.
ſhew yourſelf a man! erweiſet euch als einen Mann!
to ſhew a fair pair of heels, davon lau­fen.
to ſhew forth, auf­weiſen.

show (v.)

Old Eng­lish scea­wi­an “to look at, see, gaze, behold, obser­ve; inspect, exami­ne; look for, choo­se,” from Pro­to-Ger­ma­nic *skau­wo­jan (source also of Old Saxon skau­won “to look at,” Old Fri­si­an ska­wia, Dutch schou­wen, Old High Ger­man scou­won “to look at”), from Pro­to-Ger­ma­nic root *skau- “behold, look at,” from PIE *skou‑, vari­ant of root *skeue- “to pay atten­ti­on, per­cei­ve” (see caveat, and compa­re sheen).

Cau­sal mea­ning “let be seen; put in sight, make known” evol­ved c. 1200 for unknown reasons and is uni­que to Eng­lish (Ger­man schau­en still means “look at”). Spel­ling shew, popu­lar 18c. and sur­vi­ving into ear­ly 19c., repres­ents obso­le­te pro­nun­cia­ti­on (rhy­mes with view). Hor­se racing sen­se is from 1903, per­haps from an ear­lier sen­se in card-play­ing. 1

c. 1300, “act of exhi­bi­ting to view,” from show (v.). Sen­se of “appearance put on with inten­ti­on to decei­ve” is recor­ded from 1520s. Mea­ning “dis­play, spec­ta­cle” is first recor­ded 1560s; that of “osten­ta­tious dis­play” is from 1713 (showy is from 1712). Sen­se of “enter­tain­ment pro­gram on radio or TV” is first recor­ded 1932. Mea­ning “third place in a hor­se race” is from 1925, Ame­ri­can Eng­lish (see the verb).

Show of hands is attes­ted from 1789; Phra­se for show “for appearance’s sake” is from c. 1700. Show busi­ness is attes­ted from 1850; shor­ten­ed form show biz used in “Bill­board” from 1942. Actor’s creed the show must go on is attes­ted from 1890. Show-stop­per is from 1926; show tri­al first recor­ded 1937. 2

Many of us must have seen the spel­ling shew for show. Geor­ge B. Shaw, for ins­tance, used only the vari­ant shew, and so did Skeat. I have no idea how they pro­no­un­ced this word. Per­haps an expl­ana­ti­on is in order. The Old Eng­lish verb scēa­wi­an belon­ged to the class in which stress alter­na­ted bet­ween ē and the fol­lo­wing vowel, so that scéa­wi­an coexis­ted with sceá­wi­an. One vari­ant yiel­ded shew (still com­mon in Bri­tish dialects), while the other beca­me show. The vari­ant shew is mis­lea­ding for most spea­k­ers of Stan­dard Eng­lish (if such a varie­ty of Eng­lish exists). Much less com­mon than shew is strow for strew, but then, unli­ke show, strew goes back to the form with éo. The dif­fe­rence bet­ween show and shew is mir­rored by the ety­mo­lo­gi­cal dou­blets troth and truth. Final­ly, let us not miss the hor­ror of sew and sewer. Unli­ke shew, which strikes most as exo­tic, sew (“to stitch tog­e­ther”) is the only spel­ling we have, even though it rhy­mes with sow (the verb sow “to scat­ter seed,” not the noun sow “fema­le swi­ne”). 3

  1. The Online Ety­mo­lo­gi­cal Dic­tion­a­ry[]
  2. The Online Ety­mo­lo­gi­cal Dic­tion­a­ry[]
  3. The Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press’s Blog[]

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