"a strainer, simple instrument for separating the finer from the coarser parts of disintegrated matter by shaking it so as to force the former through holes or meshes too small for the latter to pass," Middle English sive, from Old English sife, from Proto-Germanic *sib (source also of Middle Dutch seve, Dutch zeef, Old High German sib, German Sieb), from PIE *seib- "to pour out, sieve, drip, trickle" (see soap (n.)). Related to sift.
The Sieve of Eratosthenes (1803) is an ancient method for finding prime numbers. A sieve is noted as something a witch sails in by 1580s; hence sieve and shears, formerly used in divination.
late 15c. (implied in verbal noun sieving), transitive, "sift through or as if through a sieve," from sieve (n.). Related: Sieved.
updated on October 05, 2022