|Down to the Sea in Ships--Adelaide Hiebel|
A guest request came up last week from Julie, aka my sister, wondering about those "-ship" endings. Friendship, courtship, sponsorship, relationship--those kind of words. I have a feeling that I did run across the meaning of this suffix, in one of the many posts I seem to have done about ships (just punch "ship" into the search field here--you'll see what I mean), but if so, I don't remember it.
My guess is that "-ship" has little to do with "ship" unless "ship" is somehow derived from "-ship". Confused? Fear not.
As I thought, they are not related. And in fact, "-ship" is the relatively easy one. It is a suffix added to a noun to show its quality, status or condition. I liked the description of its various uses here, at the first comment, and was pleased to see that I was right in thinking, probably because I'd read it somewhere else relatively recently, that it is related to German suffix schaft. This suffix is mostly applied to nouns, but it was interesting to see in the above link that it was quite common in Old English to apply it to adjectives and participles as well. Apparently only two examples survived into our current day usage--"hardship" and "worship" (which is a shortened "worthyship").
As our commenter above says, this quality, state or condition stuff has many gradations. It can refer to number, skill, position or rank. At root, it all goes back to *scap, which means to create, ordain or appoint, but ultimately to that hypothesized PIE root, *scep, which has to do with shape.
Anyway, ship, the noun, has nothing to do with all that. What is nice is that it gives us a chance to visit my favorite etymological expert, Anatoly Liberman, who has been mentioned too rarely around these parts of late. Liberman is the kind of scholar who knows when to say, "It can't be known". Surprisingly, this is exactly what he has to say about the word 'ship'. Of course, this doesn't stop him from devoting two articles to it. You can find the first one here, and the second one here . If you haven't read his stuff before, despite being an expert, he writes terrific prose that is often dryly funny.