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I found the following definition of shed (the verb):

  1. chiefly dialect : to set apart : segregate

  2. to cause to be dispersed without penetrating

  3. a. to cause (blood) to flow by cutting or wounding

    b. to pour forth in drops shed tears

    c. to give off or out sheds some light on the subject

  4. to give off, discharge, or expel from the body of a plant or animal: as

    a. to eject, slough off, or lose as part of the normal processes of life a caterpillar shedding its skin, a cat shedding hair, a deciduous tree sheds its leaves in the fall

    b. to discharge usually gradually especially as part of a pathological process shed a virus in the feces

  5. to rid oneself of temporarily or permanently as superfluous or unwanted shed her inhibitions, the company shed 100 jobs

Here, I am primarily interested in the third usage. We can shed blood, sweat and tears but not much else. Obviously, we can also shed our clothes or shed light upon but these are different meanings.

The etymology of the word is:

shed (v.) "cast off," Old English sceadan, scadan "to divide, separate, part company; discriminate, decide; scatter abroad, cast about," strong verb (past tense scead, past participle sceadan), from Proto-Germanic *skaithan (cf. Old Saxon skethan, Old Frisian sketha, Middle Dutch sceiden, Dutch scheiden, Old High German sceidan, German scheiden "part, separate, distinguish," Gothic skaidan "separate"), from *skaith "divide, split."

According to Klein's sources, this probably is related to PIE root *skei- "to cut, separate, divide, part, split" (cf. Sanskrit chid-, Greek skhizein, Latin scindere "to split;" Lithuanian skedzu "I make thin, separate, divide;" Old Irish scian "knife;" Welsh chwydu "to break open"). Related: Shedding. A shedding-tooth (1799) was a milk-tooth or baby-tooth.

In reference to animals, "to lose hair, feathers, etc." recorded from c.1500; of trees losing leaves from 1590s; of clothes, 1858. This verb was used in Old English to gloss Late Latin words in the sense "to discriminate, to decide" that literally mean "to divide, separate" (cf. discern). Hence also scead (n.) "separation, distinction; discretion, understanding, reason;" sceadwisnes "discrimination, discretion."

As far as I can tell, the third meaning of shed (in the quoted definition) is restricted to blood, sweat and tears. Why is that? What is the origin of the idiom to shed blood? I would guess that shed blood comes from the meaning to scatter abroad of the Old English word sceadan, if so, why is it so restricted today? Was it once a more common term? Could we once say that I shed water on my garden or I shed the seeds in my field?

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But if we can shed skin and also hair, that invalidates your claim. I understand shed to mean that you lose (forever) those skin cells, those blood cells, those drops of tears and those hair strands. The very parts of our bodies which, funnily enough, continually renew themselves and get replaced. We don't shed teeth or bones. –  Mari-Lou A Oct 29 '13 at 20:13
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@Mari-LouA shedding of that sort comes under the fourth meaning while shedding blood and tears is the third. Not sure I can put my finger on why exactly but that is basically my question. Also, we shed other people's blood usually, not our own. –  terdon Oct 29 '13 at 20:17
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Well there aren't many other bodily fluids left to shed; apart from semen, and urine. Wherein semen is ejaculated and urine is passed. –  Mari-Lou A Oct 29 '13 at 20:23
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If you are saying that shedding clothes is part of a different meaning, what else apart from blood, sweat and tears, would ypou expect to be able to shed? Waste products? I have never heard, incidentally of anyone shedding sweat! –  WS2 Oct 29 '13 at 20:24
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Anything liquid or granulated can be shed. As can many things metaphorically, like one's clothes or some light on the subject. It's from a common Teutonic root, with no other I-E cognates. It simply means to divide, with a subsidiary sense that one part (which may be fluid or plural) is to be discarded. –  John Lawler Oct 29 '13 at 20:51

1 Answer 1

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Because these usages of shed are assuming a few things about the objects being shed:

a. to cause (blood) to flow by cutting or wounding

b. to pour forth in drops shed tears

Both (a) and (b) require a liquid state in order to flow or drop and (c) is some form of luminance which you noted you don't actually care about. So you could say:

(a) The cyborg shed oil from its veins.

(b) The sky shed rain upon the fields.

These are non-standard in the sense that their usage is extremely uncommon but the meaning still fits.

To directly answer your question: You can shed blood, sweat and tears because they are liquids dispersed from cutting or wounding (blood) or things that pour forth in drops (sweat; tears). If anything else in the human body could do either of those things you could also shed them.

To prove the point:

A urinary tract infection has been plaguing me for days. Yesterday I shed a mere three drops.


By the way, I have no idea where you copied your definitions from but the link you gave doesn't seem to match.

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That's just it, the usages you suggest sound weird to me, I would not say The sky shed rain upon the fields. I cannot, however, explain why I would not say that. If you say you would, then perhaps it is I who has a strange concept of the word. I guess I have not really expressed myself clearly, I find it interesting that the word seems restricted to liquids for example, any idea why? The etymology does not seem to restrict it to liquids and it is not so restricted when it means to get rid of as in shed clothes. Thanks for pointing out the wrong link by the way, I added the right one. –  terdon Oct 29 '13 at 23:49
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The word really isn't restricted to liquids. You restricted it to liquids when you asked the question by only calling out those particular usages that required liquids. :) As for "the sky shed rain" sounding weird, I would say that it sounds archaic. I understand what was meant and that it is correct but would still wrinkle my nose at it and consider it awfully close to purple prose. –  MrHen Oct 29 '13 at 23:51
    
Btw, you can make it sound less awkward with context but I didn't feel like writing a short story around clouds shedding rain. –  MrHen Oct 29 '13 at 23:52
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I would find it somewhat poetic, but not at all weird, to say that a cloud shed its raindrops. –  Bradd Szonye Oct 29 '13 at 23:59
    
Cystitis is one very very sore condition, and the sufferer does not shed drops of wee. The bladder is not blocked, it is just extremely painful to pass urine, which is expelled normally only in great discomfort. Where did you get the quote of the three drops of urine, if I may ask? –  Mari-Lou A Oct 30 '13 at 0:08

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