Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

Hide Quotations Hide Etymology Cite this entry

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. Gen.Sc. Ags. 1930 A. Kennedy Orra Boughs xxxi.:
He snapped the book shut, and skiffed it from him along the floor.

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 skiffle, the stone, and pl. skiffles, (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.]

You may wish to vary the format shown below depending on the citation style used.

"Skiff v., n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 1 Dec 2021 <>



Try an Advanced Search

Browse SND: