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You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

In word: skive

The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word:


Slang is the great weedy garden from which hardy new strains grow, particularly when a slang word or expression provides a meaning not precisely available before, or adds a note of color to an existing meaning.

We already had shirk, malinger, and goldbrick. To these we can add skive.

Skive, Eric Partridge says, arose as British military slang during the Great War, circa 1915. Often appearing as a phrasal verb with off, it means to get out of work by making oneself absent, or to stray or leave without permission. In current use it frequently crops up when students skip school.

Merriam-Webster theorizes that it may derive from the Scandinavian skifa, “to slice,” and that’s as it may be.

It’s British, but it’s handy, and it’s picturesque.

Example: From Jefferson Frank’s The Responsible Economy (2015): 

“The incentive problem on the side of the worker arises since the worker decides how much effort to invest in his or her job at the firm. Since effort is costly, the worker may try to skive off on the job. A natural way to deal with this is to pay a good wage, but to sack the worker if he or she is found to be skiving off.”

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