When you spend your time not doing what you should be doing, you could be said to be skiving [‘skaɪvɪŋ]. This applies especially to taking unofficial time off school, or at least it was the expression used when I was at (secondary) school in the 1980s, not that I ever indulged in it. It is also used to describe the avoiding work and others things you should be doing.

Other ways of describing this practice include playing truant, doing a bunk and bunking off. I’ve also heard some people using mitching or mitching off for this, and I think you can ‘dog’ school in Scotland. In the USA do you skip or cut class/school or play hooky?

The etymology of skive, as in to play truant / avoid work, is uncertain, but skive has another meaning: to split or cut into strips, which comes from the Old Norse skifa [source].

Here’s a good example of attempted skiving:

A mother repeatedly called upstairs for her son to get up, get dressed and get ready for school. It was a familiar routine, especially at exam time.

“I feel sick,” said the voice from the bedroom.

“You are not sick. Get up and get ready,” called the mother, walking up the stairs and hovering outside the bedroom door.

“I hate school and I’m not going,” said the voice from the bedroom, “I’m always getting things wrong, making mistakes and getting told off. Nobody likes me, and I’ve got no friends. And we have too many tests and they are too confusing. It’s all just pointless, and I’m not going to school ever, ever again.”

“I’m sorry, but you are going to school,” said the mother through the door. She decided to try a bit of encouragement, “Really, mistakes are how we learn and develop. And please try not to take criticism so personally. I can’t believe that nobody likes you – you have lots of friends at school. And yes, all those tests can be confusing, but we are all tested in many ways throughout our lives, so all of this experience at school is useful for life in general. Besides, you have to go, you are the headmaster.” [Source]

Are there other words for this practice in English or other languages?

This entry was posted in English, Language, Words and phrases.

19 Responses to Skiving

  1. Andrew says:

    Yup, pretty sure this is British English, we “skip” school or “cut class” here in the U.S.

  2. You are correct on the American terms. Another term used when I was in school (90s) was “ditching class” or just “ditching.” Skiving is totally new to me though, I’d never heard it before.

  3. LandTortoise says:

    The term in Wigan, Lancs is “to wag it”: “Darren isn’t in school today he’s wagging it”.

  4. Ryan says:

    I feel like playing hooky is an older term, or maybe just an east coast thing. I (US Pacific Northwest English speaker, 20) would say that I skipped class.

  5. stormboy says:

    Kids in London ‘bunk off’ from school. ‘Skiving’ (to me) is more general – it can refer to avoiding work in any context.

  6. michael farris says:

    skiving is not used in US English AFAIK. Now that I think of it the name of the first Bananarama record “Deep sea skiving” finally makes sense.

    In my dialect you play hooky from or just hook school (whole day) or cut classes (or just cut used with no object) particular classes.

    Both are normally used only of school I think I’ve heard playing hooky for work (taking a day off for no particular reason) but that was joking. There’s also go awol (from the army).

  7. Jerry says:

    In Dutch it’s “spijbelen”, and almost exclusively used for skipping school.

  8. Alan says:

    Skiver is thinly shaved leather used by bookbinders and there’s a skiving machine to make it.

    Otherwise I’d agree that skiving is more general than ‘bunking off’ which entails avoiding work or whatever through absence. Skiving is avoiding work in any way.

  9. Macsen says:

    In Cardiff, Wales, we’d say ‘mitch’ (‘tch’ as in ‘which’) school; an English word. It would be made a Welsh word by adding ‘o’ – ‘mitcho’ 😉

    Skiving could be used but as Stormboy says, it’s a more general term for avoiving doing work, whilst to mitch would be to avoid being at work/school at all!

  10. LandTortoise says:

    Macsen: I note in my Welsh dictionary that “truant” is “mitsiwr”- is this from the English “mitch” or is the English “mitch” derived from the Welsh?

  11. Luc says:

    In French, we would say “sécher un cours” (slang) or “faire l’école buissonnière”.

  12. Christopher Miller says:

    With the general meaning that several people give it here, “skive” seems to me to be equivalent to the North American (or perhaps just Canadian?) “goof off”.

  13. Macsen says:

    LandTortoise – I’m not sure, I’d always assumed it was English … and always assumed it was a word which everyone used in English, like saying ‘put it over by there’ 😉

    Maybe it’s from Welsh. Though the ‘tch’ sound is not originally native to Welsh, the sound was subsequently adopted in other indigenous Welsh words like ‘cwtch’.

    My guess would be find out if the word is used in the West of England and then brought over. Any readers of the blog from Somerset etc?!

  14. Simon says:

    According to The Free Dictionary, mitch probably comes from the Old French muchier/mucier (to hide, lurk).

    Another word from the same root is mooch – to loiter or walk aimlessly; to behave in an apathetic way; to sneak or lurk; skulk; to cadge; to steal [source], which might be of Celtic or Germanic origin [source]

  15. michael farris says:

    There’s also goldbrick (or gold brick).

  16. Jim Morrison says:

    I am from Coventry in the U.K. and we used to say ‘Wagging it’ for skiving.
    Do you fancy wagging it with me tomorrow? We will have to watch out for the wag man (the bloke who had the job of driving around on his motorbike looking for children who were wagging it).

  17. LandTortoise says:

    Macsen: I know “to mitch” was the verb used in Devon (where I grew up).

  18. Victor says:

    In New Brunswick we say ‘jig’ as in: ‘I jigged school on Tuesday’.

  19. Mig says:

    I can confirm that it’s “sécher” in France (literally “to dry”) but in the part of eastern France where I used to live they said “faire bleu” which is borrowed from the German “blau machen” which means litterally “to make blue”. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is called “Ferris Bueller Macht Blau” in Germany.

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