World Wide Words logo


Pronounced /skjuːˈwɪf/Help with IPA

This colloquial expression for something crooked or askew dates from eighteenth-century Scots and is now mainly to be found in Britain and the Commonwealth.

You’ll think you’ve tumbled into a Vermeer with your first glimpse of a skinny townhouse so skew-whiff that it’s probably only standing by dint of being supported on either side by equally historic homes.

The Scotsman, 20 December 2008.

The off-centredness is often figurative. One writer described a pop song as having “skew-whiff charms”; others variously criticised a skew-whiff shortlist, referred to a poem’s skew-whiff irony, and shuddered at fashion’s “skew-whiff combos like puce and purple”.

The first part of the word will cause no difficulties, since it is almost certainly from askew. The second element, I am assured by those who know (though most dictionaries dodge the issue), is the same word as that meaning a light puff of air, suggesting that the thing in question has been blown off course.

A few North Americans may know the closely related skewgee or similar words with variable spellings. Here, the second part is from the Scots agee (or ajee), created from a call to a horse to move to one side.

Page created 7 Mar. 2009

Support World Wide Words and keep this site alive.

Donate by selecting your currency and clicking the button.

Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select a site and click Go!

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved. See the copyright page for notes about linking to and reusing this page. For help in viewing the site, see the technical FAQ. Your comments, corrections and suggestions are always welcome.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved.
This page URL:
Last modified: 7 March 2009.