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Brandon Robshaw: English Usage #24

Skiving off

I don't feel like doing any work today. I feel like skiving. Skiving off. Being a skiver.

I always associate the word "skive" with the 1970s. That's probably because I was at school in the '70s and skiving was talked about and indeed practised a lot by me and my compeers. But leaving that aside I still think it's true that one hears the word less these days.

I had assumed that the word was of Scandinavian origin, because I remember learning at university that most words beginning sk- came to us from the Vikings. Yet when I Googled it I discovered that, although there is indeed a word skive which comes from Old Norse, it means to "pare down a piece of leather or other material", a word only used by craftworkers. Its more common sense of avoiding work or bunking off is unrelated and has a completely different origin. According to the online dictionary it is a piece of 19th century American college slang and probably derives from the French word esquiver, meaning "to dodge".

So now you know. Back to my skiving.

Dr Brandon Robshaw lectures for the Open University in Philosophy, Creative Writing and Children’s Literature. He has written several children’s books including a philosophical YA novel, The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers. He and his family starred in BBC2’s Back in Time for Dinner. You can find his website here.

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