skive, skiver, skivvy, skivey, (& AE skivvies)

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Arrius, Mar 15, 2009.

  1. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    Spain
    English, UK
    I cannot understand why BE skiver (apparently a variant of skewer) has the meaning of slacker/ loafer/lazybones, whereas BE skivvy or skivey is an overworked domestic servant, a drudge - a diametrically opposite concept.
    Skiver is said to derive from an Old Norse root containing the idea of cut, slice or disc(disk): the skiver cuts off thick slices of time and effort from what he owes his employer. I can find no etymology for skivvy/skivey so it may somehow share the same origin as skiver. The same ON root has also given us shear, share and score , even shire, I think.
    The AE and nautical skivvies means underwear, possibly because such garments are skimpy, looking as if almost cut to shreds, especially in the case of a string vest, a possible explanation being another derivative of the same root, shiver, as in "Shiver me (my) timbers!" where shiver means shatter, but I may be fantasising.
    My main point is: how can one explain the opposite meanings of British skiver and skivvy/skivey? :confused:
     
  2. dinji Senior Member

    Borgå, Finland
    Swedish - Finland
    Just one note: skiver seems to come from O.N. skifa (< PIE skei-p-) whereas the other words you give come from PGmc *skeran.
     
  3. Wilma_Sweden

    Wilma_Sweden Moderatös

    Lund, Sweden
    Swedish (Scania)
    That's the dialectal version of skewer, which is probably not the same as the work-dodging skiver, judging by the OED:

    OED says that skive/skiver as in dodging work is 'perhaps' an adaptation of a French verb, esquiver, meaning 'to dodge, slink away' and that it's originally military slang, earliest appearance from 1919.

    About skivvy, the OED says 'obscure origin' - not very helpful. Eearliest appearance is from 1902.

    /Wilma
     
  4. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    Spain
    English, UK
    I hesitated to go back to Proto-Indo-European, as all that is hypothetical ("PIE in the sky", as one might say if one had my warped sense of humour), but all these words that begin with sk or sh (cf Eng, ship and Scandinavian skip) and contain the idea of cutting do, indeed, seem to go back to a common PIE ancestor, even schism from the Greek skhismatos being semantically connected.
    The plausible connection between Fr. esquiver (to dodge) and skiver (esquiveur) did not occur to me: the Norman French may have introduced this pejorative word to the enthralled Anglo-Saxons just as the British missionaries and colonial administrators were responsible for the loan word lezi (i.e. lazy ) in several Bantu languages. They didn't know they were lazy until we arrived.
    I just looked up skivvy in my old edition of the OED (slightly mislaid when I asked the question) which gives slavvy (pron. /sleivee/) as a colloquial alternative. Now, slavvy is obviously a diminutive of slave, which derives from Slav, since the majority of European slaves (M.L. sclavus) at one point were of that race. This is schiavo in Italian, which points to a connection with the form skivvy, so possibly Q.E.D. and another of those weird but frequent coincidences.
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2009
  5. Wilma_Sweden

    Wilma_Sweden Moderatös

    Lund, Sweden
    Swedish (Scania)
    Ehrm, considering the late appearance in English of this dodgy word, it sure took the Norman French a long time to export it... ;)

    /Wilma
     
  6. dinji Senior Member

    Borgå, Finland
    Swedish - Finland
    Many of these words belong together, like you say, notably those which contain the *-i- (or -y- if you wish because it behaves like a consonant, and does not participate in ablaut/vowel alteration), and which forms part of the IE root:
    http://www.bartleby.com/61/roots/IE464.html

    *Skeran on the other hand cannot be formed from the same root, because it contains no *-i-/*-y-: http://www.bartleby.com/61/roots/IE467.html

    There are hardly any more reliable reconstrucions than that of Proto-Indo-European. The evidence is extensive and the methods refined over the years. Yet, it still of course remains "hypothetical" in the strict sense.
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2009
  7. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    Spain
    English, UK
    1. It was skivvy not skiver that is said to have made it's appearance in 1902. the former having nothing to do with the Norman-French (whose language is still used in the British Parliament on ceremonial occasions). I have been unable to ascertain when skiver first appeared in the sense of lazybones.
    2. The alleged origin from esquiveur of skiver is only plausible, and probably not correct despite the OED which says this might be the origin, my original explanation of cutting time off effort and work being far more likely, especially since I just found a definition of skiver as a knife used for skinning, (cf. cutting classes at university). If it was the Norman-French that introduced the word to England, they would have said it in French until it was assimilated into the emerging common language. However, although esquiver can mean to shirk (not connected with the thread words but from German Schurke, a rogue), the noun esquiveur is not to be found in Larousse.
    3. I thank dinji for his interesting link, but still tend to believe that Indo-European words that begin with sk, sh, sch, sc, skh and contain the idea of cutting originate from some common ancestor lost in the mists of time whatever vowel or semi-vowel they now have, even. if you will forgive me, to shit, which has the idea of separation (from the body) as attested to by Swedish avsöndra, if my memory serves me correctly, and German absondern.
    4. The main point, however, is that it appears that skivvy and skiver have different etymolgies, as I said in Post #4, so their similarity is a mere coincidence.
    The origin of skivvies iremains obscure, and my explanation possibly farfetched.
     
  8. opossumd New Member

    Italy
    Italian
    In Italian the English word skiver sounds a lot like a derivative of the Italian verb schivare, meaning to dodge, to avoid, to eschew. Etymologically, schivare is cognate with Franconian skiuhjan, meaning take heed. In this case the root would appear to be Germanic.
    Regarding the Italian word schiavo, instead, it derives clearly from medieval Latin s(c)lavum, as well as medieval Greek sklabos, both meaning slave, captive.
    (Source: Il Nuovo Zingarelli, Bologna 1983)
     

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