skirmish (n.)

late 14c., scarmuch, "irregular fight, especially between small numbers of soldiers," from Old French escarmouche "skirmish," from Italian scaramuccia, earlier schermugio. This is held to be probably from a Germanic source, with a diminutive or depreciatory suffix (see -ish), from Proto-Germanic *skirmjanan (compare Middle Dutch schermen "protect," Old High German scirmen "to protect, defend," German Schirm "umbrella," originally "leather protection on a shield"), from PIE root *sker- (1) "to cut."

It was influenced in Middle English by a different verb, skirmysshen, "to brandish a weapon," from Anglo-French eskirmiss-, stem of eskirmir "to fence," from Frankish *skirmjan, from the same Germanic source as the other word. An earlier verb in English was skirm (Middle English skirmen), c. 1200, "to fence, fight with a weapon, fight in small parties," from Anglo-French.

Compare scrimmage, which is a variant of it; for the form, compare rubbish. Other modern Germanic languages augment the diminutive with a second suffix: German scharmützel, Dutch schermutseling, Danish skjærmydsel. Skirmish-line "line of soldiers thrown out in advance of the main part of an army" is attested by 1864.

skirmish (v.)

"fight irregularly, singly or in small parties," c. 1300, scarmuchen, from Old French escarmuchier, from Italian scaramucciare (see skirmish (n.)). The earlier verb was skirm (skirmen, c 1200), from Anglo-French eskirmir. Related: Skirmished; skirmisher; skirmishing.

updated on December 11, 2022