THE WORD ITSELF
The word translated "divide" can also mean "conquer" as in 2 Chr 32:1, or "split" as in Ecc 10:9m Num 16:31, "burst" (Job 32:19), breaking up fallow ground (Ps 141:7), or "dividing in two" (Zc 14:4, "separate" (Hab 4:9). The same word is used of the dividing of the sea in Ps 78:13 and Neh 9:11. Thus the word itself has a wide range of meanings.
THE CONTEXT OF EX 14:16
Context is always important in establishing meaning. Consider, for instance, Ex. 14:22:
So the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
It is from this verse clear that the waters were divided (cf. also v29). Thus, since the context clearly shows that the waters were divided, and since "divided" is a well-attested meaning of the Hebrew word, it is best to translate the phrase "divide the water". Had the author intended the reader to understand Moses "doing violence to" the water, he would not have used a word that often means "divide" in a context in which the waters are divided.
An English example
If I say, "My dog smells. Especially when it's been outside in the rain", you will understand "smell" to mean "stinks". But if I say, "Some dogs rely mostly on seeing and hearing. But my dog smells. It can use its olfactory faculties to find well-hidden food, even with it's eyes closed." - you will understand "smells" to mean "uses its sense of smell". No English speaker would think that I was referring to the sense of smell in the first example - a Chinese person might, especially if he takes the verse in Exodus out of context. Whoops, I accidentally revealed the nature of my allegory. Oh well.