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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1971 (SND Vol. VIII). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

SKIFF, v., n.1 Also skif, ¶skift, and freq. form skiffer. [′skɪf(ər)]

I. v. 1. intr. To move in a light airy manner, barely touching the ground, to skim, glide, skip (Sc. 1808 Jam.). Gen.Sc. Hence skiffer, a flat stone used in playing ducks and drakes (m. and s.Sc. 1970).Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shep. i. i.:
She came skiffing o'er the dewy Green.
Rnf. 1788 E. Picken Poems 145:
Or skiffs alang the flowery green wi' me.
Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry Storm'd 66:
Fast scamperin' and skiffin'.
Sc. 1866 R. Chambers Essays II. 34:
A skiffing up and down stairs.
Edb. 1897 W. Beatty Secretar xxii.:
The birds were skiffing here and there.
Ayr. 1925 Ayr Advertiser (29 Nov.):
Ye skiffed alang the skemlin.
w.Lth. 1930:
Mony's the time A've sent stanes skiffin' ower the water.
Mry. 1970 Northern Scot (11 April) 6:
To skift between the wall and a lamp-post before taking to the road again.

2. To rain or snow very slightly (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 157; Sh., ne., em.Sc.(a), Lth., wm., sm.Sc., Slk. 1970). Hence vbl.n. skiffin, a slight fall of snow (Id.). Also in freq. form skiffer (wm.Sc. 1880 Jam.).Abd. 1880 G. Webster Crim. Officer 64:
A slicht skiffin' o' snaw on the grun'.

3. With by or ower: to do any kind of work in a hasty careless or superficial manner (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 157; Sh., n.Sc., Ags., Per. 1970).

4. tr. To touch lightly in passing, to brush or graze (n.Sc. 1808 Jam.; Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 157); to brush off, flick (Gregor). Gen.Sc.Rnf. 1806 R. Tannahill Poems (1900) 97:
Rude storms assail the mountain's brow That lightly skiff the vale below.
Dmf. 1812 Scots Mag. (April) 296:
The first flight of the winter's rime, . . . The wanton wife skift off his grave, A kirking wi' her new gudeman.
Slg. 1818 W. Muir Poems 89:
Frae the rank blue-bells I skiff'd the clear dew.
Ayr. 1844 Ayrshire Wreath 157:
It [lightning] skiff'd my lug.
Dmf. 1898 J. Paton Castlebraes 66:
Skiffin' a tear frae his e'e on the sly.

5. To throw (an object) along the surface of anything, to make a flat stone skip over water (Sc. 1808 Jam.), or ground as in hop-scotch. Also intr. of a stone etc. (Bnff., Ags., Fif., Edb., Ayr., Dmf., Rxb. 2000s). Gen.Sc. Also skiffin stane (Bnff., Ags., Fif., Ayr. 2000s).Ags. 1930 A. Kennedy Orra Boughs xxxi.:
He snapped the book shut, and skiffed it from him along the floor.
Sc. 1996 Herald (26 Jul) 47:
Two of his rivals, Jerome Romaine (Dominican Republic) and Brian Wellman (Bermuda), have been studying videos of Edwards' technique, the skimming action like a child skiffing flat stones on the beach, which is the key to his success.
Sc. 1999 Herald (24 Apr) 6:
On the very roads that gave them shelter the travellers know they are sinking, as inevitably as polished stones skiffing across a pond.
Ayr. 2000:
Ti skiff a stane over water.

II. n. 1. (1) A slight touch or graze in passing, an abrasion (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 157). Gen.Sc.; a skimming slithering motion over a flat surface as of a stone in ducks and drakes (Sc. 1880 Jam.), or in hopscotch. Hence skiffie, the stone, and pl. skiffies, (i) the game, of ducks and drakes (Kcd., Ags. 1970); (ii) see 1920 quot.(ii) Ags. 1920:
In guessing games, the guesser of the predetermined object, if it proved too difficult, could ask for a “skiffie” or a “glancie.” A “skiffie” was putting one hand over the other and making at the same time a quick gesture in the direction of the object. The setter of the problem could preclude the claim by starting off with the formula “Nae skiffies nor glancies.”

(2) A slight whizzing sound, as of something flying through the air (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 157); a slight gust of wind (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; ne.Sc., Slg., Lth., wm.Sc., Wgt., Rxb. 1970).Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry 56:
Whan skiffs o' wind blaw aff the brae.

(3) a very thin slice of anything (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.). In deriv. skiffin, a thin partition or screen (ne.Sc., Fif. 1970), though this is phs. rather a variant of Skiftin.Lnk. 1951 G. Rae Howe o' Braefoot 23:
Saw a door through the skiffin' forenent the back o' the front shop coonter.
Ags. 1959 People's Jnl. (16 May):
The thin partition between the grieve's house and his own, the box-beds adjacent, divided as he said by a “thin skiffin' o' wud.”

(4) fig.: a slight touch of illness (Cai., Ags., wm.Sc. 1970), a brief superficial account of anything.Edb. 1839 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch xxvii.:
Wait a moment till I give a skiff of description of our neighbour Reuben.
Sc. 1884 Stevenson Letters (Colvin 1901) I. 320:
I have had a skiff of cold.

2. A slight or flying shower of rain or snow, a drizzle, a fleeting patch of wet mist (n.Sc. 1825 Jam.; Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 157). Gen.Sc. Dim. skiffie.Per. 1817 A. Buchanan Rural Poetry 27:
Now, slowly, owre the mountain top, Gray skiffs o' mist in ether float.
Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 157:
There cam a bit skiff o a shoorie.
Sc. 1870 Public Opinion (23 July) 110:
An occasional skiff with the syringe to keep the foliage free from dust.
Uls. 1910 C. C. Russell People & Lang 41:
A “light skiff,” or a “wee skiff of a shooer.”
wm.Sc.1 1956:
We've had a week of cold now, including a skiffie of snow.

[The word is prob. basically onomat. and a variant of Scuff with sim. meanings, but confused with Skift, q.v.]

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"Skiff v., n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 19 Jul 2024 <>



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