scion /ˈsaɪən/

There are some words that I think I know but either don’t or fail to remember. Scion is one such word. When I hear it or see it in an article, I have to think hard about what it actually means – other than the brand name of a car built by Toyota.

Toyota's Scion logo

Toyota's Scion logo

Its original meaning is a shoot or a twig, coming from the Old French cion, ciun, cyon, or sion. It has been suggested it has some relationship to the Old French, scier, which mean “to saw” but the Oxford English Dictionary suggests this is inconsistent with the other spellings. The Old French in turn derives from the Latin secare meaning “to cut.”

It can also mean a branch used for grafting. The earliest mention is in 1305 where it is spelled siouns, but then goes through a variety of spellings through to the 19th century when the current spelling seemed to set in.

The metaphor of the shoot or bud gave rise to it taking on the meaning of a heir or descendant. In West’s Alicia de Lacy, published in 1814, we see the phrase, “To guard the precious scion of the house. Two years later, Lord Byron, in his poem The Dream wrote, “Herself the solitary scion left Of a time-honoured race.”

For such an old word, it is remarkable that it has never mutated to change from a noun to some other part of speech. It has appeared as scioness to refer specifically to a female scion, but that’s a recent thing (1928) and unnecessary.

According to the British National Corpus, it appears 38 times out of a sample of 100 million words, all of them as a noun. In the list of English words by frequency of use, it comes a piddling 55,818th. Its use on the internet and in print is today dominated by its being used as the name for the Toyota car.

In popular culture, Scion is also the name of a role-playing game from White Wolf Publishing. The premise is that “the players take the role of the half-children of Gods, in the mould of Heracles, blessed with the power of their divine blood and the moral complexity of their mortal lives.” The notion of offspring is clearly the root reason for the name of the game.

And in Eidos’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider series, Lara finds herself in Egypt and finding her way through the Sanctuary of the Scion.

Lara Croft and the Sanctuary of the Scion

Lara Croft and the Sanctuary of the Scion

It’s no secret that the Tomb Raider games are one of my guilty pleasures and amateur psychoanalysts are invited to send me their pocket analyses.

Then again, Xena Warrior Princess is also in the “guilty pleasures” box. Go figure.


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