Thursday, 6 May 2010


After enjoying the novel Jack Maggs by Peter Carey, I read a review of it on his website. The review's by Peter Kemp, in the Sunday Times of September 21, 1997 and in part he says:
Freakish figures with quirky mannerisms and odd names - Mrs Halfstairs, Captain Constable - lurk in skewwhiff little rooms or down narrow corridors lined with ancient, mildewed ballgowns.
Skewwhiff - a word I've used all my life but never seen written. I would have expected it to be skewiff, so I searched for that spelling.

Wordnik has some citations of this spelling, but no definitions. A not-too-persistent search found some discussion of this spelling, but no authoritative definitions.

Skewwhiff, however, appears on lots of dictionary sites. The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines skew-whiff as not straight (=crooked) and points out that it isn't used before a noun. But note that Peter Kemp in the quote above has used it before a noun.

The Urban Dictionary has two spellings - skew-wiff, meaning all messy, disheveled. Colloquial British term somehow derived from "askew"
and skew-whiff, defined as turned or twisted toward one side. Common usage in the UK.

My mum came from Edinburgh, and in our family we still retain a few northern English, lowland Scottish expressions, so I think that might be why we grew up saying this word.

The Viking Network relates the word askew - which we didn't use - to skew-whiff and says they're both of Scandinavian origin.


Anonymous said...

hence the expression ‘squiffy’…to be inebriated! Not able to stand or walk strait straight

parlance said...

Anonymous, that's interesting about 'squiffy'. Thanks.