English English language Etymology Usage Word origin

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Q: How about the use of the word “share” to mean communicate, as in “I want to share my concerns with you”?

A: People have been sharing opinions and feelings since Shakespeare’s time, but the more personal sense of sharing that’s common today dates from the 1930s. Here’s the story.

When the verb “share” showed up in the mid-1500s, it meant to cut into parts or cut off, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s ultimately derived from scearu, an Old English term for cutting.

By the late 1500s, according to the OED, “share” was being used in the sense of dividing something into portions or shares.

And by the start of the 1600s, the dictionary says, the verb had taken on the sense of sharing “an action, activity, opinion, feeling, or condition.”

Oxford’s earliest example for this sense, from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1600), refers to “all the counsell that we two haue shar’d.”

The contemporary sense you’re asking about (to share one’s personal experiences or feelings with others) dates from the early 1930s.

The first example in the OED is from Arthur James Russell’s For Sinners Only (1932), a book about the Oxford Group, a Christian organization founded by the American missionary Frank Buckman:

“They [the Oxford Group] defined Sharing as meaning two distinct things—further definable as Confession and Witness.”

And here’s an example from The Challenge of the Oxford Groups (1933) by S. A. King: “What does the Bishop think a man feels when he has ‘shared’ for ‘witness’ and finds that God has used that ‘sharing’ to bring a brother out of … bondage?”

The Oxford Group evolved in the late 1930s into Moral Re-Armament, a moral and spiritual movement headed by Buckman.

In “the language of Moral Re-Armament,” according to the OED, the verb “share” had the sense of “to confess one’s sins openly; to impart to others one’s spiritual experiences.”

However, the verb was soon being used loosely to describe the sharing of quite secular feelings and experiences.

The dictionary cites two early nonreligious examples from Going Abroad, a 1934 novel by Rose Macaulay:

“She would, thought he, be able to share with another girl in a way she could not with him.” And this one, from later in the book: “I must say, I did annoy my father a bit by sharing with him a few things I’d thought about him.”

We’ll end with an example from Your Eyelids Are Growing Heavy, a 1982 crime novel by Barbara Paul:

“She ‘shared’ with the group the fact that she’d begun to have severe bouts of depression.”

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