"skivvies" (cross-post from Linguist List)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Aug 30 03:17:57 UTC 2000


Please send comments to the poster (Mr. Wilson, at the address below)
as well as to ads-l.


LINGUIST List:  Vol-11-1819. Tue Aug 29 2000. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 11.1819, Qs: Etymology of "Skivvies",Survey on Spanish


Date:  Sat, 26 Aug 2000 06:38:30 -0400
From:  "Douglas G. Wilson" <douglas at nb.net>
Subject:  Etymology of the word "Skivvies"

I am researching the etymology and connections of the word
'skivvies'/'skivvy' = 'underwear'.

I have consulted the major dictionaries (none of which gives even a
speculative etymology) and conventional reference books, and I've
searched the Web. I have seen various spellings: 'scivey', 'skibbies', etc.

This word is perhaps more interesting than one might think initially.
Can anyone help me?

In particular, has there been a thorough examination of this word in the
published literature?

The word 'skivvies' in the sense '(naval) underwear' goes back at least
to 1927 in the US.

'Skivvy' is also used for 'pullover' (shirt/sweater), particularly in

The singular noun 'skivvy' apparently = 'T-shirt' in the US Navy.

Possible connections/conflations include:

'skivvy' = 'flunky' ('menial laborer') [mostly non-US, ca. 1900 to date]
'Skib'/'Skibby' = 'Jap[anese]' [derogatory US military slang, WW II]
'skibby'/'skippy' = 'Asian prostitute' [US slang, from early 1900's]
'skippy'/'skibby' = '[effeminate] homosexual [man]' [US slang]
'[get] the skivvy on ...' = '[get] the skinny on ...' = '[get] the facts
on ...' [US slang]
'skivvy girl' = ? [US military slang, Vietnam]
'skivvy house' = 'whorehouse' [US military slang]
'skivvy niners' = US Air Force intelligence unit personnel (including
linguists!) [USAF slang]
'skivvies' = 'sandals'/'slippers' (?= 'scuffies') [US slang]
etc., etc.

I would be interested in information on any of these items and any
similar ones.

At least one possible connection outside the English language suggests

Specific questions:

(1) Is there (or was there ever) a slang expression 'skivvy' meaning
something like 'swabby' or 'sailor'?

(2) Was "Skivvies" ever *used* as a trademark (registered or not) for
underwear? If so, when, where, and by whom?

I will present a summary.

-  Doug Wilson

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