1580s, from Middle Dutch splitten, from Proto-Germanic *spl(e)it- (cf. Danish and Frisian splitte, Old Frisian splita, German spleißen "to split"), from PIE *(s)plei- "to split, splice" (see flint).
Meaning "leave, depart" first recorded 1954, U.S. slang. Of couples, "to separate, divorce" from 1942. To split the difference is from 1715; to split (one's) ticket in the U.S. political sense is attested from 1842. Splitting image "exact likeness" is from 1880. Split screen is from 1953; split shift is from 1955; split personality first attested 1919. Split-level as a type of building plan is recorded from 1952. Split-second first attested 1884, in reference to a type of stopwatch with two second hands that could be stopped independently; adjectival meaning "occurring in a fraction of a second" is from 1946.
1861 as the name of the acrobatic feat, from split (v.). Meaning "sweet dish of sliced fruit with ice cream" is attested from 1920, American English.
v. split, split·ting, splits
To divide from end to end or along the grain by or as if by a sharp blow; tear.
To break, burst, or rip apart with force; rend.
To separate; disunite.
To break apart or divide a chemical compound into simpler constituents.