The other day I heard the word sheer describing a transparent gown (which some consider inappropriate for a royal engagement photo session).

Until then I only knew sheer in the sense of "being free from an adulterant: pure, unmixed" (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sheer), probably because it matches the meaning of German schier. That German word is, as an adjective, usually used in certain connections these days. In particular it is used for lean meat, which would be "schieres Fleisch".

"Sheer meat" sounds totally idiomatic to me, but perhaps only because I'm listening with German ears.

Googling the connection proved inconclusive. If the term exists, it's not used very often. So, does it? Is it perhaps a professional term?

  • 1
    It is not a collocation i’ve ever heard. I donl’t think it’s used in the food industry either. – Jim Dec 25 '17 at 16:14
  • For you, it's a false friend – Mitch Dec 25 '17 at 16:17
  • The word sheer can be used as a kind of hyperbole to emphasize the preponderance of a given element or component in a larger composition. For example, if you had a greasy, protein-rich breakfast, and someone asked you “How was breakfast?”, you might reply “It was sheer meat!” even though you ate potatoes as well. That’s the only time I can think of, as a native speaker, that someone would say “sheer meat”. The only other context would be, for example, in the schwarma place where they slide little pieces off the rotisserie lamb: you might call that shear meat, but note the diff spelling. – Dan Bron Dec 25 '17 at 16:19

Cognates such as Knecht-knight show how English and High German words, though from a common Germanic root, can diverge over time. Both words come from a root akin to scheinen-shine, the metaphor being bright, pure, shimmmering. English speakers can drill a tunnel through sheer [pure] rock or attain a goal — such as climbing a sheer cliff — through sheer determination and even dress in sheer fabrics like chiffon, but they can't go to the butcher for "sheer meat."

  • Please explain how/show that 'schier' and 'schein' have a common root. – Řídící Dec 25 '17 at 17:29
  • I already did. Click on the first link, which goes to the Duden online entry for "schier," then scroll down to Herkunft. An English dictionary will get you to OE scinan, which will likely mention the NHG scheinen. – KarlG Dec 25 '17 at 17:50
  • Nope. Can't follow that. – Řídící Dec 25 '17 at 17:54
  • Can't follow what? That schier and sheer are cognate or that they both stem from a root akin to scheinen-shine? – KarlG Dec 25 '17 at 17:56
  • What does a 'root akin to' mean, if they are different roots? – Řídící Dec 25 '17 at 18:00

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