This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Spot the Frippet: skivvy.


In Britain you employ them, in America you hide them, and in Australia and New Zealand you show them off.

A British skivvy is someone who works very hard doing dirty housework (the dictionary says usually female. Ha! As if that needed saying).

The skivvy was usually the most junior of the indoor servants. Thankfully the need for a paid post of skivvy hasn't existed since the invention of the washing machine, the vacuum cleaner, and, especially, central heating.

When skivvying is still needed nowadays it's usually done, unpaid, by the chief female of the household. This is because she is the only person in the family with the mental capabilities necessary for the perception of filth.

In America a skivvy is a man's T-shirt, but in the USA if you have skivvies then they're probably a set of men's underwear.

Australians and New Zealanders, both men and women, flaunt their skivvies quite openly.

In this case, however, skivvies are polo-necked sweaters, so it's not quite as exciting as it might be.

Spot the Frippet: skivvy. The T-shirt meaning seems originally to have been US Navy slang; the underwear meaning started off as a trade name. The origin of the name for a servant is a mystery.

For derivation-lovers I'm afraid can only really offer you skivie, which means bonkers and comes from the Old Norse skeifr, askew.


  1. A couple of years ago I was told about a Santa skivvies run.
    I didn't understand what the big fuss was about, and really, who wants to wear a polo-neck when running?
    One emailed picture later, and my eyes were opened. Wide! :)

    1. So were mine!
      A Santa skivvies run involves many beautiful young men wearing their underwear and Father Christmas hats.
      Well, it all adds to the gaiety of the nation.

  2. Skivvies can also be used for women's (or perhaps girls') underwear. In the stage musical Grease, Danny initially seems not to notice that Sandy is wearing a skimpy cheerleading skirt, but he does show a jealous side when he finds out she wants to become a cheerleader, accusing her of "getting ready to show off [her] skivvies to a bunch of [overinterested] jocks". (I know 'overinterested' isn't a word, but I don't like to use the actual word on this blog.)

    Though his apparent lack of interest in her short skirt and use of a term more commonly applied to men's underwear perhaps tells the real story. Danny later quits the track team following an incident involving him and the team captain's jockstrap.

    1. I shall never view Grease in the same light ever again.