Don’t even take words at face value. You can’t always trust them.
1. Cleave: to adhere closely, stick, cling. “To cleave to one’s principles in spite of persecution.”
2. Cleave: to split or divide, as if by a cutting blow. “The bow of the boat cleaved the water cleanly.”
Hey, wait a minute! How can this be? This word doesn’t just have shades of meaning, it has opposite meanings! Don’t just throw up your hands in frustration, dig for the answer.
1. Cleave: Before 900 AD; Middle English cleven, old English cleofian
2. Cleave: Before 950 AD; Middle English cleven, old English cleofan
A little linguistic forensics shows that the difference of a single letter, one that would probably change the pronunciation only slightly, plus a little human carelessness (over 1000 years ago), has created a single word with two completely different meanings. The lesson here? Don’t just scratch your head and shrug your shoulders. There are reasons for everything and you can usually find out what they are.