Saturday, November 20, 2010

Skittish


While she was watching an animal rescue show on a cable channel, Noreen heard the word skittish and wondered about its origin.

Originally, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it referred to a human disposition characterized by levity, frivolity, or excessive liveliness. A century later [1510], it was applied to horses that were unruly, shy, and likely to run away when startled.

It may have come from an Old Norse word that meant to shoot or throw. Such a sudden motion would spook a nervous horse.

From that same base came the word skit, used to designate a parody or satirical comedy. In those presentations, the writer would metaphorically take shots at the subject of ridicule.

Another skit had a totally unrelated origin and meaning. It meant diarrhea in sheep, and it led to the English word shit.


Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition


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