School (meaning)

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There are two different nouns school in English, and several shades of meaning in the two verbs more or less correlated to them. (You may want to see the page on the spelling of 'school', which applies to all these meanings.)

  • The noun best known to all users of AWE is likely to be that of an educational institution. In the UK, this is mostly provided for learners under the age of compulsory education, currently (2013) 16.
    • It is a paradox that may not be appreciated by many under the age of 16 and undergoing education in schools, that the root of school is the Greek σχολή (scholē), which OED translates primarily as 'leisure' (amongst others).
    • σχολή is also given as 'employment of leisure', and thus, among the ancient Greeks (a deeply serious people) 'learned discussion', 'disputation', 'lecture', and then a 'group to whom lectures were given'. The development to 'an educational institution' seems straightforward.
      • School is also used to mean more generally 'a group', 'a band', 'a company'. This is now commonly used in academic and artistic circles for a group of like-minded people, such as followers of a particular philosopher or doctrine ('the school of Plato', 'the utilitarian school'); followers of a particular historian, technique or approach ('the Namier school', 'the documentary school'); followers of the artistic tradition of a recognized master or place or time ('the school of Durer', 'the Florentine school', 'the twelfth century school of Siena'); and, by extension, almost any field of human endeavour. The phrase Old School is used of traditionalists in any discipline, mostly by members of a corresponding New School. There are even gambling schools, "part[ies] of persons met together for the purpose of gambling" (Vaux, J.H. (1819) 'New Vocab. Flash Lang.' in Memoirs of James Hardy Vaux, London, W. Clowes, cited OED). These are usually disreputable.
        • This modifies into 'a place where something is learnt', not always formally, as in 'the streets are the school of crime' and sometimes remarkably informally, as in 'the school of hard knocks', a phrase used by people who have succeeded in life without benefit of 'book learning' to impress the listener with their struggles and difficult circumstances, and sometimes to sneer at 'impractical' academics in their ivory towers.
    • The noun school meaning 'a group of people engaged in learning', 'an educational institution' gives rise to one of the verbs.
      • 'To school', which is nearly always transitive, is similar to 'to educate', with a strong inclination towards training as opposed to developing the mind: being schooled in a particular area has connotations of being drilled and disciplined (one obsolete meaning is 'to chastise' or 'to punish'). Specifically equestrians school horses - for show-jumping, for circuses and for dressage. (In traditional hunting circles, people travelling straight across country on horseback used the verb intransitively, as, after killing a fox, a rider might 'school home.')
  • The second noun school listed and defined in OED means 'a [large] number of fish [or aquatic mammals such as porpoises or whales] swimming together' (see also school - shoal). This meaning is also derived from Greek σχολή, through Latin schola, which was taken into Common Old Germanic, in Middle Dutch schōle as 'a troop', 'a band', and later 'a shoal of fish', 'a flock of animals'.
    • This gives rise to
      • the second verb 'to school', always intransitive, which is used of fish, means 'to form a group [of aquatic mammals]'. There are some subtleties in its usage which may trouble specialists (see school - shoal), but need not concern non-specialists.
You may also want to see a page on some very subtle nuances of meaning at College - School - University.