Note:-The Etymology and Early History of Skiff: International waters

By William Sayers, published December 2023


The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines skiff as ‘a small seagoing boat, adapted for rowing and sailing; esp. one attached to a ship and used for purposes of communication, transport, towing, etc. Hence, a small light boat of any kind.’ While the definition is unremarkable, the attendant etymological note gives pause.

Either (i) a borrowing from French. Or (ii) a borrowing from Spanish. Or (iii) a borrowing from Portuguese. Or (iv) a borrowing from Italian. Etymons: French esquif; Spanish esquife; Portuguese esquife; Italian schifo

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