• scrimmage •
skri-mij • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, Verb
Meaning: 1. The play in a game of US football from the time the center snaps the ball until it is ruled dead. 2. A practice game in sports training between two squads from the same team or different teams. 3. A skirmish, scuffle, tussle, fray.
Notes: Today's Good Word started out referring to the disorganized scuffle in football and rugby play. In rugby the pronunciation shifted to scrummage and subsequently was shortened to scrum. In both sports the word is used as a noun or a verb: to scrimmage is to play a scrimmage game.
In Play: In US football, each play begins with both teams lining up facing each other along the line of scrimmage: "When the center passed gas on the line of scrimmage, the quarterback fumbled the ball and we lost the game." Scrimmages in the broader sense, however, can take place almost anywhere: "Deciding who is going to clean up the kitchen is more like a scrimmage than a discussion at our house."
Word History: Today's Good Word started out as skirmish but in the 16th century it underwent metathesis: the I and L switched places as they did to produce flimsy from film. Next, the -ish at the end of the word was confused with the suffix -age and there you have it (after a bit more tweaking): scrimmage. The underlying root of this word was Proto-Indo-European sker- "cut", which also developed into the English words shears, sharp, and scrape. (We wouldn't like to have to scrimmage with Jackie Strauss, so let's thank her now for suggesting today's Good Word.)
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