Skew-whiff.

I was reading Catherine Shoard’s Guardian puff piece on Mark Rylance (“the best actor of his generation,” “the world’s greatest actor”) when I was pulled up short by this passage:

He plays Terry, a banker who once ran a Congo-based squad of assassins (including Penn and Ray Winstone). As projects go, it feels a bit skew whiff for a pacifist so committed that he winces at the very mention of American Sniper.

I was so unfamiliar with “skew whiff” that I assumed it must be a typo, but a moment’s googling showed me my error: the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines it as “sloping instead of straight, or wrongly positioned: You’ve got your hat on skew-whiff.” And it’s not some recent bit of slang; the OED (in an entry from 1933) takes it back almost three centuries:

dial. and colloq.

Askew, awry (lit. and fig.).

1754 Scots Mag. July 337/2 Behind, with a coach-horse short dock, cut your hair; Stick a flower before, scew-whiff, with an air.
1839 W. Holloway Gen. Dict. Provincialisms (new ed.) 154/1 Skew-whift, adj. (Askew, from Skef, Belg. oblique; and perhaps Whiffed, blown.) Awry.
[…]
1895 J. T. Clegg Stories, Sketches, & Rhymes in Rochdale Dial. 228 Her judgment’s getten thrut skew-wift.
1899 Shetland News 20 May 7/2, I hed ta geng skewquieff.
1935 A. P. Herbert What a Word! iv. 101 Go on cackling..until the orator has to stop and ask you why you cackle. Then tell him. He won’t get Frankenstein skew-whiff again.
1946 D. L. Sayers Unpop. Opinions 59 When Neptune shouldered Britain out of the sea, he did not make a neat engineering job of it. Characteristically, Britain came up skew-wiff, with one edge thick and hard and the other soft and thin, like a slice of wedding-cake.
1959 I. Opie & P. Opie Lore & Lang. Schoolchildren iii. 47 If a boy’s cap is on skew-whiff: ‘Are you wearing that cap or just walking underneath it?’
[…]
1974 J. Cleary Peter’s Pence iii. 82 Our plans seem to have gone a bit skew-wiff, don’t they? That’s the trouble with the Irish.
1977 Lancashire Life Feb. 53/4 Thi tie’s put on skew-wiff.

Is this a word every UKanian knows? And are any of my non-UK readers familiar with it?

Rylance is indeed an amazing actor, by the way, and my wife and I are thoroughly enjoying the BBC Wolf Hall adaptation.

Comments

  1. Jeffry House says:

    Never heard of it. (Ontario, Canada)

  2. It looks vaguely familiar, but if I had encountered “skew whiff” before, I either forgot or didn’t bother to look it up.

  3. Stefan Lewicki says:

    I’m a retired Englishman and have known this word for as long as I can remember. All sorts of things can be skew-whiff here: it means they’re crooked, or not on straight or level. Can apply to items of clothing, DIY efforts, lots of things. Astonished as you are not to have come across it, I’m amazed you don’t have the word on your side of the pond…

  4. Yes, very common in the UK, although less so in the abstract sense in which Shoard uses it. Normally applied to a physical object.

  5. Yep, “skew-whiff” is a common phrase here in the UK, though my daughter would be more likely to use “wonky” instead…

  6. I’m English, from London. Yes, I’d say it, in the sense of a thing being uneven. But I’d spell it (and say it) as one word. Skewiff or something. Not pronouncing two W’s.

  7. David Eddyshaw says:

    I confirm that it’s normal Cispondic, if a bit old-fashioned. I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen it written down before, though.

  8. I’ve never heard of it either.

    I’m a retired Englishman

    What nationality do Englishmen assume after they retire? Norman? Portuguese? Thai? Moroccan?

  9. Jonathan Wright says:

    I’m southern English, early 60s, RP speaker. I may even use the expression from time to time. I’m certainly very familiar with it but I think it might be going out of fashion

  10. David Eddyshaw says:

    “What nationality do Englishmen assume after they retire?”

    Emeritan.

  11. David Eddyshaw says:

    Apologies. The politically correct term is “Anglo-Emeritan.”

  12. *tries to work up Emer(ald Isle) joke, gives up, gets back to work*

  13. Normal for me (Edinburgh)

    Not how I would have spelt it (mostly because I make a distinction between w and wh, and it’s definitely w if anything), but I’m not sure how I *would* have spelt it…

  14. My mother always pronounced it Skee-whiff (Southern UK). I’d never seen it written before.

  15. in South African vernacular English there is a word ‘skeef’ borrowed from the Afrikaans, which means much the same thing.
    http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/skeef

    if I ever heard skew-whiff I probably thought they were actually saying skeef.. don’t recall ever seeing it in print though.

  16. I’ve definitely read it a few times – maybe in Scottish books. There’s also the lovely word “skewbald”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skewbald

  17. Jonathan D says:

    Australian, and like wn, I’d expect skewiff or something like that.

  18. Chris McG says:

    Definitely a word I say and hear in the UK. The spelling looks weird, but I can’t think of what would look right (a bit like ‘hoick’, I can never find I way to spell that without it looking off to me either)

  19. Perfectly cromulent in my circles in New Zealand.

  20. Australian, and know it, but as a UKism that I would probably never use myself (like “barmy” or “Chrimbo”).

    Also, I agree with wn about the spelling.

  21. Used by Jim Prideaux in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. A Czech character who identifies as an Englishman.

    ‘Skew-whiff. Like me. Watch,’ and turned purposefully to the larger window. A strip of aluminium beading ran along the bottom, put there to catch the condensation. Laying the marble in it, Jim watched it roll to the end and fall on the floor.

    ‘Skew-whiff,’ he repeated. ‘Kipping in the stem. Can’t have that, can we? Hey, hey, where’d you get to, you little brute?’

    -John Le Carre.

    Rendered as skewy in the US edition, but said skew-whiff in the Audio book we have, from a UK reader.

    I have not heard it in any other context, (Am/E.)

  22. squadron leader squiffy von bladet says:

    Perfectly ordinary banter! (UK-born and bred; currently mid-40s and emmigrated.)

  23. Very familiar expression to me (an Emeritan, an ancient Emeritan). Michael Quinion says (World Wide Words) that it’s 18th C Scots, and draws attention to a similar N Am expression “skewgee”. Anyone over there heard of skewgee?

  24. I thought Chrimbo must be Australian, like arvo and things – definitely never heard it here!

  25. Definitely well-known in my circles in the south-east of the UK. I think it’s on TV a lot? Helps drill it in!

  26. maidhc says:

    I’m very familiar with the expression, but I take it to mean strictly “at an asymmetrical angle”. I don’t see it as synonymous with “wonky”, “pear-shaped”, etc, meaning a failure or something not quite right.

    Something I would say when I am trying to get the fit of my glasses adjusted, except that no one here would understand it.

  27. This word meant nothing to me.

    (Also, regardless of whether the OED entry dates from 1933, it must have been revised at some point since 1977.)

  28. I’ve only ever heard “Chrimbo” in a UK context (magazines and so on) — the Australian equivalent I’d expect is “Chrissie.” I’m sure there’s a lot of regional variation, though.

  29. David Marjanović says:

    Oh, a lurking ideophone, I thought. But:

    in South African vernacular English there is a word ‘skeef’ borrowed from the Afrikaans, which means much the same thing.

    *lightbulb moment* German schief “transverse”. So maybe it’s related after all.

  30. David Marjanović says:

    *headdesk* Not “transverse” – “oblique”!

  31. Trond Engen says:

    Also No. skeiv “oblique, tilted”, now also “queer”, but a cognate would have been more like *shoaf. There’s a dialect word, skjage “be unsteady, stand swaying” (of furniture as well as drunks), that might seem to belong, but the dictionaries tell me it’s actually stjage, related to ‘stagger’.

  32. squadron leader squiffy von bladet says:

    Dutch “scheef”. Let’s just announce it was borrowed by some sailors?

  33. Huh. Like mollymooly, I don’t recognise the word, although I have definitely read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

  34. A friend introduced me to Crimbo, as he spells it. He’s English, with an Australian mother and a Hungarian father. He is also a syntactician of English.

  35. Ian Press says:

    Native speaker of English, from Lancashire but long exiled to London and wasted some time commuting to Scotland. A word very familiar to me, but I don’t think I’ve ever uttered or written it myself. Possibly a bit dated.

  36. UK. Normal speech if a bit dated. Would expect to see it as one word not two, although I am not sure I’ve seen it written before. Other expression related to ‘on the skew’ (skewiff’s more formal brother) might be ‘on the bonk’ said in my hearing (as a young man) on a construction site about a misaligned wall. I never heard ‘on the bonk’ ever again, except when I’ve said it myself, which makes we wonder if the block-layer invented it the spot.
    If I had to write skewiff I would be tempted by skewhiff with an ‘h’. But let’s not get all ‘cool whip’ about it.

  37. Paul (other Paul) says:

    But I once saw Rylance murder Twelfth Night by playing Viola (yes, a man playing a woman impersonating a man) as a Japanese kabuki actor with the make-up and mincing little steps, while the rest of the case played it straight. It has (quite unfairly) jaundiced my appreciation of him ever since.

  38. Western isles Canuck here. I too have heard and used this expression all my life it seems. I know it pronounced ‘skew-whiff’ so agree that it’s a combo of ‘askew’ and ‘whiffed’, i. e. ‘knock aside by a puff of wind’. It also partners nicely with ‘wonky’.

  39. Trond Engen says:

    Seems like English ‘skew’ is syncretic in origin. Etymonline:

    skewbald (adj.)
    1650s, “having white and brown (or some other color) patches, spotted in an irregular manner” (used especially of horses), from skued “skewbald” (mid-15c.), of unknown origin, + bald “having white patches” (see bald). First element said to be unconnected with skew (v.) (but Klein’s sources say it is); OED suggests perhaps from Old French escu “shield,” but also notes a close resemblance in form and sense with Icelandic skjottr, “the history of which is equally obscure.” Watkins says it is Scandinavian and akin to Old Norse sky “cloud” on the resemblance of the markings to cloud cover.
    When the white is mixed with black it is called ‘pie-bald,’ with bay the name of ‘skew-bald’ is given to it. [“Youatt’s ‘The Horse,’ ” 1866]
    As a noun meaning “skewbald horse” from 1863.
    skewness (n.)
    1877, from skew + -ness.
    skew (v.)
    late 15c., “to turn aside” (intransitive), from Old North French eskiuer “shy away from, avoid,” Old French eschiver (see eschew). Transitive sense of “turn (something) aside” is from 1570s. Meaning “depict unfairly” first recorded 1872, on notion of being “give oblique direction to,” hence “to distort, to make slant.” Statistical sense dates from 1929. Related: Skewed; skewing. The adjectival meaning “slanting, turned to one side” is recorded from c. 1600, from the verb; noun meaning “slant, deviation” first attested 1680s.
    askew (adv.)
    1570s, of uncertain etymology; perhaps literally “on skew” (see skew), or from the Old Norse form, a ska. Earlier askoye is attested in the same sense (early 15c.).

  40. Trond Engen says:

    Old North French eskiuer “shy away from, avoid”

    Thinking of it, this looks very much like a loan of a Scandinavian cognate of ‘shy’, Danish sky “avoid”. But I think the Danish verb may be an early loan from some north German variety (or else it would end in -g), so maybe it’s an older Germanic loan.

  41. David Marjanović says:

    German scheuen would fit.

  42. John Wells says:

    An unremarkable part of my vocabulary since childhood. (England – born and grew up in the north, mostly schooled in the south.)

  43. Trond Engen says:

    …or else it would end in -ge, I meant.

    Yes, that German verb, but Danish seems to have borrowed a northern form early enough to change *ew > *ju > *y:.

  44. iching says:

    “skew-whiff” is absolutely commonplace for me, a 65 year old Australian living in Melbourne and also for my 88 year old mother, but I am not so sure about my 33 year old son. To me it means “awry”, either figuratively or literally. I would spell it thtat way too.

  45. Michael says:

    Very familiar to me, though maybe I’d associate it more with my parents’ (wartime) generation. The DSL entry is livelier than the OED, and suggests ‘squiffy’ comes from here too:

    SKEW, v.2, adj., adv., n.2 Also skeu, sku(e), scew, scue; skeugh, skeuch (ne.Sc.); sceow, sk(y)(e)ow, skyou, skowe; scoo (Gall. 1904 E.D.D.) and erron. schew- (ne.Sc.); and reduplic. nonce forms skaoowaoo, squouwow, skeewow, skee whee. Sc. forms and usages.
    [skju; ne.Sc. skjʌu, †skjux]
    1. v. ¶1. tr. To shun, avoid, take shelter from (rain or the like) (Rxb. 1825 Jam.).
    2. intr. To go in an oblique direction, to move sideways, to go off the straight, to sway from side to side in an affected manner, to swagger (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 165, skyow; Bnff., Abd. 1970). Ppl.adj. skewed, see 1880 quot.
    Abd. 1813 D. Anderson Poems 112: 
Contemplating ilk foppish brat That’s got a sword and cocket hat To see them skew and skip about.
    Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 165: 
The dyke’s beginning t’ skyow.
    wm.Sc. 1880 Jam.: 
A half-drunk person, when walking zig-zag, is said to be skew’d.
    Sh. 1897 Shetland News (16 Oct.): 
Try ta mend dy weeked wies, an’ niver skew.
    3. tr. and intr. To twist, distort, turn sideways, screw round: (1) in gen. and fig. (Sc. 1880 Jam.; ne. and em.Sc.(a), Lth., wm. and sm.Sc. 1970). Now chiefly dial. in Eng. Ppl.adj. skeuched, twisted to one side (Abd., Kcd. 1825 Jam.), badly made, shapeless (Gall. 1904 E.D.D., scood), skyowt, off the plumb (Gregor), down at heel, of shoes, skewed, demented, off one’s head (Per. 1808 Jam.).
    Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 165: 
He hid on aul’ skyowt bashles o’ beets.
    Sc. 1869 A. Leighton Sc. Words 24: 
His theologic veesion may be skew’d.
    Kcd. 1933 Scots Mag. (Feb.) 333: 
Rob skeughed his face round, What, money for school?
    (2) of the feet, legs or gait: to splay, turn outwards or awry; “to walk with a waddling gait” (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 165). Ppl.adj., vbl.n., skyowan, -in (Id.). Hence skyeowed, splay-footed (Abd. 1970); deriv. skewtsie, “rubbing the legs together as one walks” (Ork. 1958).
    Abd. 1880 W. Robbie Yonderton 8: 
The latter turned out a good deal at the toes, or, to speak more plainly, “skyeowed.”
    (3) intr., of the eyes, glance, etc.: to squint naturally or on purpose, to look askance in a suspicious or disapproving manner. Also in Eng. dial. Ppl.adj. skewed, squint(-eyed) (wm.Sc. 1880 Jam.).
    wm.Sc. 1907 N. Munro Daft Days ii.: 
The letter-carrier’s eyes may — may skew a little.
    Lnk. 1922 T. S. Cairncross Scot at Hame 13: 
I’ve skewed and skeighed and skirled and skelped.
    Kcd. 1934 L. G. Gibbon Grey Granite 33: 
Ma Cleghorn would skeugh at you over her specs.
    †4. intr. To quarrel, to fall out, disagree (Abd. 1911 Abd. Jnl. N. & Q. IV. 50; ne.Sc. 1970).
    Mry. 1921 T.S.D.C.: 
“Far’s Sammie?” “A dinna ken; me an’ him’s skeowt i’ noo.”
    ne.Sc. 1924 Swatches o’ Hamespun 11, 66: 
The wife an’ me’s like to skyow. . . . Sceowt, hae ye?
    II. adj. Off the straight, oblique, wry, slanted (Gall. 1904 E.D.D., scoo; Ork. 1920 J. Firth Reminisc. 154, skaoowaoo, Ork. 1970, skeewow; Inv., ne.Sc., em.Sc.(a), Lnk. 1970); of the feet: splay (ne.Sc. 1966).
    Sc. 1911 S.D.D.: 
Skew-mouth. A crooked mouth. Skew-mouth plane, a kind of joiner’s plane.
    Abd. 1920 A. Robb MS. iv.: 
His feet was gey and sair laid oot — skyow as a body wad say.
    Kcd. 1933 Scots Mag. (Jan.) 248: 
Reddish hair and a high, skeugh nose.
    Combs.: (1) skyow-fittet, splay-footed (ne.Sc., Ags., Dmb., Lnk. 1970); (2) skew-whiff, -wheef, -quieff, awry, ajee, at a rakish angle. Gen.Sc. Also in dial. or colloq. Eng.
    (1)
    Abd. 1875 W. Alexander My Ain Folk 220: 
Ane o’ yon chiels, yon skyeow-fitted breet.
    Abd. 1912 G. Greig Mains’s Wooin’ 50: 
Whether your man’s to be bow-hocht, or skyow-fittet.
    Bnff. 1937 E. S. Rae Light in Window 15: 
Chilpit-leukin’, booet-owre, schew-fittit, bowe-hoched, plavers o’ poets.
    (2)
    Sc. 1754 Scots Mag. (July) 337: 
Stick a flower before, scew-whiff, with an air.
    Sh. 1899 Shetland News (20 May): 
I hed ta geng skewquieff.
    Sc. 1931 F. Niven Paisley Shawl 245: 
My time-table is all skew-whiff.
    Sh. 1949 J. Gray Lowrie 94: 
Twa o’ her wheels i’ da stank o’ da rod, an’ shu wis aa staandin skeow-wheef.

    III. adv. At a slant, in an oblique direction, askew, this way and that, sideways; in a distorted manner, with an affected, waddling gait (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 165).
    Sc. 1883 J. Kennedy Poems (1920) 112: 
Awa’ the erring quoit gaet skeugh.
    Sh. 1923 T. Manson Lerwick 268: 
The houses have been built on no plan except that of being set “squou-wow” — anyhow.
    Kcd. 1933 L. G. Gibbon Cloud Howe 248: 
A lorry came down the road and went skeugh.
    IV. n. 1. A shelter, protection. See I. 1.
    Slk. 1826 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1863) I. 211: 
But house nor hame aneath the heaven Except the skeugh of greenwood tree.
    2. A twist, turn, sideways movement (Ork., ne.Sc., Slg., Lth., wm.Sc., Kcb., Rxb. 1970). Comb. skee-whee, id.
    Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 165: 
He ga’s fit a skyow, an’ caed himsel’ oot o’ the queet.
    Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch-Bk. 130: 
His heid ap i’ a skue.
    Cld. 1880 Jam.: 
Gie the stane a skew this way.
    Cai. 1929 John o’ Groat Jnl. (22 Nov.): 
If ‘e aeroplane thing took a skee-whee.
    3. A squint, sidelong glance, a look askance (Mry., Abd. 1970).
    Kcd. 1933 L. G. Gibbon Cloud Howe (1937) 220: 
With his skeugh and his puzzled eyes.
    4. In mining: a piece of rock lying in a slanting position and tapering upwards which overhangs a working-place and is liable to fall, a hitch (Sc. 1886 J. Barrowman Mining Terms 61; Ayr. 1949). Also in Eng. mining usage.
    5. A quarrel, a row (Mry., Abd. 1970).
    Abd. 1905 Banffshire Jnl. (18 April) 7: 
Tho’ sair I leuch at this bit rowie, I kent it wis a passin’ skyowie.
    6. A kind of wooden vane or cowl in a chimney which revolves according to the direction of the wind and prevents smoking (Kcd. 1825 Jam.). See wind-skew s.v. Wind.
    [O.Sc. skew, protection, 1475.]

  46. (I took the liberty of bolding the relevant bits, since it’s a long entry.)

  47. To users of the expression, has it ever been used, or can it be used as a eupemism for gay, like ‘bent’?

    zhoen: perhaps I missed something, but I thought Jim Prideaux was British born and bred.

  48. Y,
    Quite correct, he spoke Czech and most of his education was outside of England, so I mis-remembered.

  49. Poodlemom says:

    Southeastern American here.

    I’ve never heard the expression skew-whiff, but I have heard of skewbald (a horse color) and askew, meaning crooked. If I were to use a colloquial expression with a similar meaning, I would say “out of whack.” Whatever in whack is, I’ve never known.

  50. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Y:

    “To users of the expression: has it ever been used, or can it be used as a euphemism for gay, like ‘bent’?”

    No. Well, I can’t say about “has it ever been used”, but I’ve certainly never come across such a use.

    Not sure if I’d call “bent” a euphemism; more of a deliberate slur.

    Actually I’d say that in the UK “bent” is a good bit more likely to mean “corrupt” than “homosexual.” In particular, “bent copper” is pretty much a standing expression for a corrupt policeman.

  51. Australian, Victorian – hear semi-frequently, use less frequently

  52. Trond Engen says:

    Euphemisms and slurs are not mutually exclusive. It’s inherent to the euphemism that there’s something really distasteful about the referent.

  53. Trond Engen says:

    I see that some of the Scottish forms above end in [x]. That would seem to suggest that they’re inherited rather than borrowed from French or Scandinavian.

    I wonder if Da. sky and Sw./No. skygga might be Kluge doublets < *skewhW-.

  54. David Marjanović says:

    German eu comes at least sometimes from MHG /yː/ (which is preserved in Low German and also in Not Too Low Alemannic), so the Danish form doesn’t need to be a loan at all; its sk means it would have to be really old.

    The Verner alternant of */xʷ/ was */ɣʷ/, which turned into */w/ in a lot of contexts, so you may well be right about Kluge doublets.

  55. Bob Gillham says:

    Full disclosure: I’m 61, used to watch ALL the British WW2 films so may have picked it up from RAF slang but as far as I know I’ve known and used this all my life. I was born and raised in the Welsh Marches (Oswestry) so NOT just a SE thing…

  56. I don’t remember ever seeing skew whiff before, or noticing it anyway, but in the west of Ireland skew-ways is not uncommon, and I remember hearing it since childhood. Different forms are attested: scew-ways, skow-ways, skeow-ways; the last of these is closest to how I know it. The two reference books I looked at point to Irish sceabha ‘slant, skew’, as in ar sceabha ‘askew’.

  57. Is the stress in skew-ways on the final syllable, as I gather it is in skew-whiff?

  58. Hat: No – I’ve only ever heard the stress on skew in skew-ways.

  59. @David: sk- in Danish loans from Low German is not probative of age, there was enough awareness of correspondences that sch- could be ‘corrected’ to sk- when borrowed.

    By coincidence, my example is the homonymic noun which in Danish denotes a meat broth gelatin:
    L. iūs (/i̯u:s/ or /ii̯u:s/?) > F. jus /ʒy/ > LG. /ʃy/ (probably) > Da. sky /sky?/.

  60. David Marjanović says:

    …Wow, that’s impressive. 🙂

  61. David Marjanović says:

    But then, I speak a dialect that has borrowed OK with /ɛ/ because of a regular correspondence with Standard German…

  62. This is common enough to have a name, “contact-induced doubl(et)ing” (or in the more general case, “analogical transposition”). Dutch dijk, borrowed into English as dike, appears also in Standard German in the form Deich. Pure borrowing in the relevant (Middle High German) timeframe would give Deik today, but the borrowers understood the correspondences between Low and High Germanic well enough to generate a pseudo-High form, though not so perfect that it collided with the true cognate Teich ‘pond, pool’ (originally one created by damming a stream, I presume). The English cognate is ditch, which is also semantically separated, except in Irish English where ditch means a dike rather than the typically adjacent drain.

  63. Another term for it is etymological nativization, which we’ve actually used here in the past.

  64. Davis X. Machina says:

    Quite common in rural New England and the Maritimes.

  65. David Marjanović says:

    originally one created by damming a stream, I presume

    Yes; I’ve seen classifications (of what counts as a “lake” or “pond” etc.) that specified that the water can be drained from a Teich.

  66. hoick

    I don’t know this verb, but it means, according to various dictionaries, ‘lift up or hoist, often with a jerk or rapid movement’ (so the OED). This immediately made me think of hike, which I do know and use in the exact same sense, and indeed the OED conjectures that they are dialect variants. Hike definitely began as a dialect verb, got into AmE, and then borrowed back into BrE in the sense ‘walk, ramble’ < ‘walk laboriously, march’. Back to the sense of hoisting: you can hike up your pants/trousers or hitch them up; the OED doesn’t relate these forms, but they look related to me for all that.

  67. marie-lucie says:

    skew (v.)
    late 15c., “to turn aside” (intransitive), from Old North French eskiuer “shy away from, avoid,” Old French eschiver (see eschew)

    It looks like the “Old North French” still exists in Standard French, written esquiver which means something like ‘to dodge’ (a blow) with a quick, agile motion. As far as I know it is not used figuratively, unlike English “eschew”. It is also used as a reflexive verb: s’esquiver means ‘to escape quickly and unobtrusively, to make oneself scarce’.

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