This word has us baffled. We’ve found it used in numerous contexts, including art, medicine, and law. Here’s an example: “The reservation by the settlor of large beneficial trust powers and interests may leave the lifetime trusts declared in favour of others so squeletic as to be considered illusory.” We’ve found the construction “musculo-squeletic” many times, suggesting it means ‘skeletal’. In art, it seems to mean something like “bony” or “so skinny that bones show,” or even just ‘skeletal’ or ‘with bones visible’. A few photos with leafless trees using the word seem to suggest ‘like a skeleton’. What we have not found yet is a dictionary entry providing either a definiton or derivation. Help?
Thanks, Dick! What I’ve gathered, after tracing the derivation of ‘squelette,’ is that English ‘skeleton’ derives by a (mostly?) non-Latin path from Greek ‘skeletos’ — orginally an adjective, apparently, meaning withered, dried up, or even mummified. This is the common root, apparently, with Fr. ‘squelette,’ literally meaning ‘skeleton’. In English, then, these appear to become two different words with different connotations. English-language medical literature seems to be the exception, using it literally as ‘skeletal,’ as in ‘musculo-squeletic,’ and I believe the reason for this has to do with international conventions of medical terminology, perhaps for the sake of clarity. Outside of medicine, it appears to be more poetic, meaning “like a skeleton,” including (in some contexts) “thin enough so that one’s bones show,” but more commonly referring to the form of non-skeletal things like leafless trees, maps of river systems, and so on. When I offered this interpretation to the fellow with the legal quote, he said that it exactly matched the context, which is about legal instruments that provide structure but no substance. Thanks again!
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