In phonetics, the schwa symbol (notated with an ə) represents the uh sound, which is fascinating for many reasons: it's the most common vowel sound in English, it's the most relaxed sound our mouths can make, and it can be represented by any vowel letter. The first usage of this linguistic term was in an 1895 comparative philology textbook. That was taken directly from German, and the Germans borrowed the word from Hebrew sheva, which denoted a type of diacritic placed under a letter to indicate the absence of a following vowel sound (Jewish grammarians regarded the schwa as not being a vowel, due to its neutral qualities). Further back, sheva meant "emptiness" and may come from an Aramaic word swaya, meaning "equal" or "even".
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic. This year, I graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Government and Linguistics. There, I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society and wrote a thesis on Serbo-Croatian language policy, magna cum laude. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy philosophy, trivia, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.