The Grammarphobia Blog

A skeevy etymology

Q: I could not find the verb “skeeve” in my dictionary, though I’ve always understood it to mean to cause disgust or to be disgusted. If a guy tells me, “I skeeve you,” is he disgusted by me or am I disgusted by him?

A: The verb “skeeve” is described in the Oxford English Dictionary as American slang from the 1980s meaning (1) to disgust or repel, as in “you skeeve me,” or (2) to loathe or dislike intensely, as in “I skeeve that.” It sometimes appears as “skeeve out.”

So both senses of the verb are correct, and you’d interpret the meaning from the context.

The OED says the word comes from an earlier adjective dating from the 1970s, “skeevy” (disgusting, distasteful, dirty, sleazy).

“Skeevy,” in turn, probably comes from a regional Italian adjective, schifo, used in Tuscany, according to the OED lexicographers.

The American slang version may have originated in Philadelphia. The OED‘s first citation for “skeevy” is from Philadelphia Magazine in March 1976: “The word ‘skeevie’ used by South Philadelphians to indicate something disgusting is from Italian ‘schifare,’ to loathe.”

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