Printable Version
Pronunciation: skrê-fi Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Shabby, dirty, slovenly, messy. 2. Flaky, scaly from a fungal infection, covered with scurf.

Notes: Scruffy Hugh LaurieThis word is the adjective for the noun scruff. The adverb is scruffily and its noun is scruffiness. Most dictionaries have two entries for scruff, one for the sense "scabby condition" and the other, "nape of the neck". However, the only example given for the latter sense is the idiom "scruff of the neck". Idiomatic senses should not be used in determining regular meanings because, well, they are idiomatic (irregular).

In Play: This Good Word was originally confused with scurfy "scaly": "Ivan Odor had not bathed for so long he was not only dirty, but scruffy all over." Today the word is used mostly in its first sense above: "Preston Starcht was uncomfortable when his daughter brought home a scruffy motorcyclist covered in tattoos and leather."

Word History: Today's word set out from Old English as sceorf, from sceorfan "to gnaw" and scearfian "to cut into shreds". We can see cognates in Danish skurv "fungal disease", Middle Dutch scorf "scurf, scabies", Dutch schurft "scabies", and German Schorf "crust, scab". The reversal of the positions of the R and the vowel is the result of metathesis. The ultimate source of this word is PIE (s)ker- "to cut" which came to English via various routes as shear, sharp, scrape, and screw. English scaramouche "rascal, scamp", came from the French Scaramouche, taken from Italian Scaramuccia, a stock character in the Commedia del'Arte and a character in European puppet shows. The Italian common noun scaramuccia is the Italian version of a Germanic ancestor of skirmish so, in Italian, it means "skirmish". (The never scruffy Norman Holler of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, is responsible for the recommendation that we run today's Good Word with the intricate history.)

Dr. Goodword,

P.S. - Register for the Daily Good Word E-Mail! - You can get our daily Good Word sent directly to you via e-mail in either HTML or Text format. Go to our Registration Page to sign up today!