"long wooden lever for propelling a boat," Middle English or, from Old English ar, from Proto-Germanic *airo (source also of Old Norse ar, Danish aare, Swedish åra), a word of unknown origin. Apparently unrelated to the IE root that is the source of Latin remus "oar," Greek eretēs "rower," eretmos "oar," English row (v.) and rudder. As "oar-like appendage of an animal," 1580s.
A long oar, used occasionally to assist a vessel in a calm, is a sweep, and is operated by two or more men. Small oars are sculls; one rower wielding a pair, sitting midlength of the thwart. ["Knight's American Mechanical Dictionary," 1884]
updated on July 23, 2019