What is the etymology of this word? Neither the DRAE ("Etim disc.") nor Wiktionary provide much information.


1. Cognates & Hypotheses

Given that there are a few superficially similar words with the same definition ("a shard/splinter [of bone]") in other romance languages:

  • pt esquiróla
  • es esquirla
  • ca esquitlla
  • oc esquilho
  • fr esquille

It seems likely that either:

  1. they all evolved naturally from a root Latin word (i.e. schidia), or
  2. the term was used first by one of these languages, and borrowed into the others as a technical term.

However, it does not seem probable that the Spanish word developed naturally from Latin schidia, since the expected form would be something more similar to *esquía (cf. lat perfidiaes porfía).

Nor does it seem likely it is derived from the hypothetical diminutive *schidŭla (cf. lat schedŭlaes cédula etc).

2. First usages

2.1 Spanish

Although esquirla only starts to gain popular usage in the mid-18th century (and first appears in a dictionary in 1787 (Terreros y Pando) with the note "voz de Cirujía"), its earliest appearance in Spanish predates this by at least two hundred years, in a 16th century translation of Guy de Chauliac's seminal surgical treatise Chirurgia magna (original completed 1363):

Aſsi como eſquirla, o aſtilla de hueſſo apartada punguiente [...]

El octauo documento es, que à cautela ſi alguna eſquirla, o pedaço del hueſſo houieſſe quedado en la llaga...

Note that each mention includes a note explaining the term, implying it would not be understood to its audience, lending credence to the idea that it was a borrowing.

2.2 French

The French esquille first appears in a dictionary almost a century earlier (Dl'AF, 1694) than the Spanish word, and interestingly its earliest attested usage is also from an early translation (1478) of Guy's text (note that the esquille has similar ngram results to esquirla):

Étymol. et Hist. 1478 « éclat d'os » (N. Panis, Trad. de la grande chirurgie de Guy de Chauliac, fo144 ds Sigurs, p. 397). Empr. au lat. class. schidia, le plus souvent plur. schiadiae, arum (gr. σχίδια) avec altération de la termin., d'apr. la finale -ille plus cour. que -idie.

The above claims that the French term was probably borrowed from Latin schidia, changing the suffix from an original -idie to the shorter -ille.

i.e. schidia*squidie*squilleesquille

2.3 Portuguese

The oldest Portuguese reference I could find to this word was an early 19th century dictionary entry, again with the note that it is a purely surgical term:

Esquîrola, na Cirurgia he o mesmo que lasca de páo, ou pédra.

2.4 Catalan

Similar to the French explanation, the DCVB claims its etymology is probably from a diminutive of schidia:2

Etim.: probablement del llatí *schidŭla, dim. de schidia, mat. sign.

However the earliest use of esquitlla with this meaning I could find was from the 19th century. All other examples of its use in Catalan I found were of the homograph esquitlla (cf. resquitlla) (from esquitllarresquitllarrelliscarlliscar)7, e.g:

Lo cavaller encontra a Tirant en una carrera e feri l sobre lo rest, e squilla e no pres, e scorregue al guardabraç dret e leva lo y del tot ab molt coto del gipo que la punta de la lança se n porta...

2.5 Occitan

There are a handful of attested Occitan words (in various dialects)8 with the same meaning (esquilho, esquiho, esquierlo, esquirle).

One such dictionary entry posits the late Latin sources *skilla, *skerda, and links it to not just schidia but Catalan esquerda and Franco-Provenzal echiron (more commonly thought to be cognate to shard, écharde):

(b. lat. skilla, skerda, for. echiron, cat. esquerda, port. esquirola, it. scheggia, lat. schidia, gr. σχίδιον), s. f. Esquille ; écharde, éclat de bois, v. esclembo, esterlinco.

Trop leu li segren, dins toun cor flouri,
Verinóusi serp, metran sis esquiho.


b. lat. (bas-latin), g. (gascon), for. (forézien), s. f. (substantif féminin), v. (voir)

However I could find other source which affirms these claims, as such they seem to be an invention of the author.

3. Hapax legomena: Chirurgia Magna

Since the Spanish and French words first appear in Guy's Chirurgia Magna, its earlier editions may shed some light on their origins.

3.0 Spanish

In the earliest Spanish translations of Guy's work, we see the Latinate precursor squirla:

assi como squirla o astilla de huesso apartada punxante o alguna [...]

El octauo documento es que a cautela ſy alguna ſquirla:o pedaço del hueſſo...

Mas despues con el lenticular & maleo todas las squirlas...

Si el quebrantamiento desta manera es con squirlas punjentes...

La tal llaga: o ha squirlas o no. mas es llana & ygual. Si ha squirlas que pueden pungir o stimular la dura mater las squirlas...

Again, the first instances of this word in the text are accompanied by explanatory notes not present in e.g. the Catalan editions of the text. This, in addition to the un-hispanicised morphology would seem to imply the word is an unfamiliar loan.

3.1 French

As the CRNTL says, the earliest French translations of Chirurgia Magna indeed use the word esquille:

Le 8me enſeigmemẽt eſt que a cautelle ſe aueume eſquille dos...

Le huytieſme enſeignemẽt eſt qui a cautelle ſe aucune eſquille dos...

Le huitiéme, ſi par deſſain ou par hazard il y avoit demeuré quelque eſquille d'os...

We see a similar word used in some later modernised editions:3

Le huictiesme enseignement est, qu’à toute aduenture si quelque squille d’os...

However, looking at other 16th-17th century French translations of the work, the most popular (Joubert) translates this word as squirle:

Le huictieme enſeignement eſt, qu'a toute auẽture ſi quelque ſquirle d'os...

3.2 Italian

This early Italian translation uses stella, which appears to be cognate to cat estella, esp astilla (< *astĕlla < lat astŭla, assula "splinter").

Lo octauo documento e cli a cautela:ſe alcuna ſtella de oſſo...

3.3 Latin

Joubert's son Isaac published his Latin edition of the work in 1585. This edition substitutes the word frustulum5 "a small piece":

Octauũ documentum eſt, vt ad cautelam ſi aliquod fruſtulum oſsis...

Other 16th century Latin editions use the apparent mistranslation squama ("scale"), which implies they were translated from an earlier French edition, mistaking e.g. esquille for escaille (the phrase "escaille d'os" appears elsewhere in the text accurately a number of times):

Octauum documentum eſt quod ad cautelam, ſi aliquod ſquama oſſis...

Octauum documentum eſt quod ad cautelam, ſi aliqua ſquama oſsis...

Octauum documentum eſt ꝙ ad cautelam:ſi aliqua ſquamma oſſis...

  • Chirurgia (a Vincentio de Portonariis) (1537) (p.241)

Octauum documentũ ẽ ꝙ ad cautelã:ſi aliqua ſquãma oſſis...

  • Chyrurgia (Lyons, Vincentius de Portonariis de Tridino de Monteferrato) (1506) (p.114)

Octuum documẽtus eſt ꝙ ad cautelã:ſi aliqua ſquama oſſi...

  • Chirurgia (Bonetus Locatellus) (1498) (p.32)

Interestingly though, the earliest known Latin version of the manuscript (1373) (from which the English1 (1465) and presumably also the earliest French versions were translated) does not use the word schidia, but squirla:

Octavum documentum est quod ad cautelam si aliqua squirla ossis...

  • Inventarium sive Chirurgia Magna
    "The text of the Inventarium presented here is based closely on MS Vat. palat. lat. 1317.6 My attention was first drawn to this manuscript of the Inventarium by its colophon, which identifies the copy as having been completed in Montpellier in 1373... [with some emendations from the Oxford Magd. 208]". (p.xv)

Now, squirla is not a word attested in Latin, so it appears to be a neo-Latin coinage unique to this text. Possibly an attempt to retro-engineer the presumed Latin source word of the Catalan or French term used in the source manuscript.

3.4 Catalan revisited: origins of Guy's Chirurgia Magna

Researching the origins of Guy's work further, it appears a number of scholars believe it was originally written in Catalan4, as is the earliest known manuscript:

During Chauliac’s lifetime, Montpellier was still the university town of the Catalans, and this explains why French historians, such as Desbarreaux Bernard,7 believe that Guy wrote his ‘Grand Surgery’ in Provençal or Catalan, and not in Latin as is commonly assumed. Desbarreaux’s conviction is founded on the Vatican Manuscript,8 contemporary with Chauliac and written in Catalan, which is probably the most ancient existing manuscript of Guy de Chauliac’s great book.


7. T. Desbarreaux Bernard, Bull. des Biblioth., 10 me serie, p. 836
8. MSS Biblioth. Vatican., hispanice, 4804, (see Desbarreaux Bernard, loco cit.)

The analogous quote from the Catalan manuscript is:

enter image description here

Lo. 8m. [enſeņament] es que ꝑ cautela ſi alguna eſquerda dos...

And a later Catalan printing of the work in Barcelona:

Lo. viii. document es que a cautela ſi alguna eſquerda del os...

As we see, these texts use the word esquerda, a synonym of esquitlla (historically, in most modern dialects of Catalan it retains only its secondary meaning of "crack") which is theorised to have a distinct (but disputed) etymology (possibly cognate to French écharde and English shard):

Etim.: segons Meyer-Lübke REW 7979, del germ. *skarda, ‘osca’, que té representants romànics com el fr. écharde ‘crètua’; la e de les formes catalanes s'explica, segons Meyer-Lübke, per influència del llatí crepitare ‘esclatar’ (que ha donat origen als mots crètua, cretlla i escletxa, sinònims de esquerda). En canvi, segons Spitzer Lexik. 56 i García de Diego Contr. 150, esquerdar i esquerda vénen del llatí crepitare sense intervenció de l'element germànic que Meyer-Lübke suposava.

Note that esquerda pre-dates Guy's opus, featuring in several Catalan texts from the 14th century, e.g:

E apres poch ab la dita bombarda faeren altre tret e feri en l arbre de la nau castellana y leva n una gran esquerda e y degasta alguna gent.

  • Crònica, Rei Pere del Punyalet (ed. Coroleu, 1885) llibre 4, cap. VI (1366)

4. Conclusions

Given all of the above, namely:

  • the Spanish word was unlikely inherited from Latin schidia directly (as opposed to e.g. it scheggia)
  • there are no instances of the word's use in Spanish, French, or Portuguese before Guy's work, and they are then used in only a small number of exclusively surgical works for the next few centuries
  • the earliest editions of the work in Latin do not contain schidia, but the seeming Romance back-formation: *squirla
  • the earliest Spanish editions use this same form squirla, as opposed to the expected esquirla
  • the earliest extant copy of the work was written in Catalan, and uses the word esquerda, and is suspected to be the language of the original work from which the earliest Latin copy was translated
  • esquerda is the only word whose first appearance in text pre-dates its use in the Chirurgia Magna

it seems possible that the etymology was thus:

  • cat esquerda
    • neo-lat *squirla (via. Latin manuscript of Chirurgia Magna)
      • esp squirla
        • esp esquirla
      • fr squirle
        • fr esquille (Possibly influenced by Catalan esquitlla or vice versa)

I.e. the original word was the Catalan esquerda, that in a later translation of this to Latin was adapted as the neo-Latin *squirla, and that this was further adapted to Spanish, French etc in subsequent translations giving us the modern terms.

If accurate, this would make all these terms cognate with en shard, fr écharde, with no relation to Latin schidia.


1. Dictionary of Medical Vocabulary in English, 1375–1550 (p. 889, 1019)

2. cf: lat amygdala*amyndulaca ametlla
and note also the direct descendent:
lat schidia
  → ca esqueix
    → es esqueje
  → it scheggia
  → sa schèdra, schèlda
  → ro ștează

3. Note: squille (from Latin squilla/scilla) also appears in a later chapter of Chirurgie Magna in its meaning of sea-shrimp/sea-onion.

4. Sometimes referred to as Provençal in the various works cited here, as this was a period in time where Occitan and Catalan were still considered the same language

5. "even when Joubert altered Guy's language..."
Inventarium sive Chirurgia Magna (p.xvi)

6. Vatican has not yet digitised this work, cannot confirm this is actually what it says, and not a reconstruction by the above based on the Oxford copy/later e.g. Spanish translations. Trip to Italy?

7. Etim.: sembla efecte d'una regressió o falsa descomposició de resquitllar, que probablement és una metàtesi de relliscar.
DCVB: esquitllar (2)

8. Esquirle.
. . . . segre midons cuy servi
. . . . layshera l’esquirle
. . . . e foran dur miey nervi
. . . . deport que de mirle
. . . . cassa per que rezervi,
. . . . quant er lox de molre.
Deux Mss. X, 8.

Chabaneau im Glos. „écureuil“. aber Revue 32, 46: „La mutilation du ms. rend fort incertaine la. traduction donnée au glossaire des mots esquirle et mirle“.
Labernia. hat esquirla = esberla und dieses = spam. „raja, astilla“ und = esquerda, dieses wieder = span. „hendedura, rendija etc.“.
Mistral hat esquerlo, esquirlo (m.) etc. „sonnette“ und esquierlo = 1) „esquille, écharde“ 2) „sonnette“ 3) „embrasure“.
Levy, Emil: Provenzalisches Supplement‑Wörterbuch, 8 vol., Leipzig 1894–1924, réimpr. Hildesheim 1973 (p.285)

Editions of Chirurgia Magna:

During 3 centuries it took part in the mainstream of surgical training. We thought interesting to observe how the original doctrine evolved over that period, to analyse the constant parts and those subject to differing interpretations, while replacing the transformations into their historical medical context.
Editions of Chirurgia Magna
Guy de Chauliac et la "Grande Chirurgie". Quatre siècles de vie universitaire.

Guido de Chauliac (Guy de Chauliac)
Cirugía de Guido de Cauliaco con la Glosa de Falco, nuevamente corregida y enmendada, muy afadida con un tratado de los simples por Juan Calvo. Valencia: Pedro Patricio, 1596.
Guido en romance. Sevilla: Menardo Ungut, 1493.
Guido en romance. Sevilla: Menardo Ungut, 1498.
Inventario o colectario en la parte cirurgical de la medicina. Sevilla: Jacobo Cromberger, 1518.
Inventario o collectorio en cirurgia, compuesto por Guido Cauliaco con la glosa de Joan Falco. Trans. Joan Laurenço Carnicer. Zaragoza: Jorge Coci, 1533.
Inventario o colectorio en cirugía: compuesto por Guido de Cauliaco. con la glosa del maestre Joan Falcó. Çaragoça: Pedro Bernuz, 1555.
Inventario o colectorio en cirugía. Con la glosa del maestre Juan Falcó. Alcalà de Henares: Juan Gracian, 1574.
Pràtica o reportori utilissim de cirurgia. ensemps ab algunes addicions doctorals e scientiffiques e trauida de lati en lengua vulgar catalana per en Narcis Sola. Barcelona: Johan Rosembach e Carles Amoros, 1508.
Fictions of Well-Being: Sickly Readers and Vernacular Medical Writing in Late Medieval and Early Modern Spain (p.144)


Hay un error muy grande, cuando se habla del italiano "stella de olio"...aquel "stella" viene del latin "stilla" que significa "gotita". Una gotita de aceite. Stilla es diminutivo del latin "stiria" y se utiliza todavia en italiano, junto al verbo "instillare" y paralelamente a "goccia" (= gota mas grande) y "goccina-goccino" (sinonimo de "stilla").

En cuanto a "esquirla", existe en Italia, en idioma piamontes la palabra "schirla" (leer "squirla"), que significa "esquirla de metal, de piedra o de oso". Como esquirla de oso està atestiguado por un listado escrito por el "chirurgo" Luserna, en el siglo XVI, conservado en el "Archivio Storico del Comune di Barge". Considerado que hay formas occitanas parecidas, està claro que es un occitanismo. Decir que las formas occitanas deriven de una forma catalana, pero, me parece un azar, por qué el catalan medieval solo es una variante occitana.

La esquirla de madera, en piamontes se dice "àss-cia" (leer : às-cha), que es una metatesis de una forma occitana "s-ciàia" (leer: s-chàia), derivada de un *skadja, que es deverbal del gotico "skadjan-skaljan"= latin "scindo". Italiano "scaglia". La peninsula italiana fue ocupada por los Ostrogodos y particularmente la zona alpina piamontesa, donde los Godos ocuparon las fortificaciones romanas a mitad de los valles.

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