Printable Version
Pronunciation: ê-skæns Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adverb

Meaning: 1. From the sides of the eyes, sidewise, perhaps surreptitiously. 2. Suspiciously, distrustfully.

Notes: Adverbs don't go very far: very rarely may we derive adjectives or nouns from them and almost never, verbs. This word is remindful of several others in form, all meaning something crooked like askew and awry, but unrelated to any of them.

In Play: This word basically refers to looking at someone out of the corner of the eyes surreptitiously: "When Marty Panz said that Prague was the largest city in Poland at the meeting this morning, Lucille looked askance at me and cracked the faintest smile." The metaphorical sense, though, is probably the more widely applicable: "I would look askance at any proposal to give this president a bonus after the company posted a $50 million loss in the third quarter."

Word History: No one seems to know where this one comes from. Some have suggested that its origin is the Italian phrase a scancio "aslant, sloping", but we have no evidence of that phrase being used in English prior to the rise of askance. English has a class of adjective-adverbs like aboard, abloom, and aloft, composed of some word plus the prefix a-. But if we remove the A on this word, the result is nonexistent skance. Askance also sounds a lot like a noun derived from an adjective askant and, guess what? We have evidence of that word in English, but it came long after askance. My best guess is that this word arose as a blend of two words: askew and glance, along the lines of smog from smoke and fog. But I would not blame you at all for looking askance at this explanation. (There is no reason to look askance at Ed Bedford's suggestions of today's Good Word; in fact, we owe him a word of thanks for it.)

Dr. Goodword,

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