Skirmish (argument)


Senior Member
Italian, Neapolitan
There is some disagreement among native speakers of BE about the currency of the word skirmish in the sense of argument in this thread at IE (from post #31 onwards). Some claim that it is not currently used as in the following examples from the Cambridge and Longman dictionaries:

There was a short skirmish between the political party leaders when the government announced it was to raise taxes (Cambridge)

a budget skirmish between the President and Congress (Longman)

or this example I found on Google:

Tony Blair and his mortal enemy, Ming Campbell, engage in a bitter skirmish over the crisis in Lebanon
(commentary accompanying a YouTube video of Blair and Campbell clashing in the Commons)

If possible, I'd like to hear the opinions of other BE speakers and speakers of other varieties of English.
Is this use of skirmish more common in AE than in BE, as someone suggested, or maybe limited to news reports?
I'm sure I've seen/heard skirmish used in this way in the UK press and on the BBC.
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hi giovannino

    I'd say this use of skirmish is pretty common, in BrE at least.

    I wouldn't say it's 'limited' to news reports, but I think that's where you'd find it most frequently. A Google News search throws up lots of examples.


    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Very familiar to me as well.
    It for some reason calls to mind some kind of public dispute. I don't think an argument with MrsP about where to place a light switch would be a skirmish* but dispute in a public forum such as parliament, or in a public setting generally could easily be called a skirmish.

    * In fact, that is more like a small thermonuclear exchange.


    Senior Member
    Canada, English
    I am unable to recall any use of "skirmish" as being common practice in Western Canada. In fact the only places I have come across the word, outside books, have been reports of fighting elsewhere.
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