• skirmish •
skêr-mish • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A minor, preliminary battle or conflict between two small opposing groups. 2. A little scuffle.
Notes: No, today's word doesn't mean "a little skirm"; in fact, that is not the suffix -ish on the end of it, as the Word History will show. A soldier or other person participating in a skirmish is a skirmisher. Because it ends on a hush (s, z, sh and ch), it requires an E before the plural -s: skirmishes.
In Play: Today's Good Word is probably still used more in military contexts than elsewhere: "Several skirmishes flared up around the gold mine before the main attack." It can replace scuffle, however, when you can't remember that word: "Skirmishes are expected outside the Democratic convention this year but no major disruptions."
Word History: This Good Word is an alteration of older skarmush. This word was borrowed from Old French eskarmouche "skirmish, scuffle", probably before French began inserting E before all words beginning with S+consonants, then dropping the S (école "school", état "state"). French picked the word up from Italian scaramuccia "scuffle". The underlying root of this word was Proto-Indo-European sker- "cut", which also emerged in English words like shears, sharp, and scrape. Scaramuccia, of course, is also the name of a rambunctious stock character in the Italian Commedia dell'arte and the inspiration of Rafael Sabatini's 1923 novel, Scaramouche, about a rambunctious lawyer and lively swordsman. (We don't want a skirmish with Sayan Gangopadhyay, so we are thanking him gratefully for his suggestion of today's Good Word.)
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