Early "skibbies" (1918), "skivvies" (1920)

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Mon Oct 17 03:21:31 UTC 2011

[from GenealogyBank]


_Aberdeen [SD] Weekly News_, 25 July 1918: p. 6:

[US sailors surprised by a German submarine]

<<Fight in Underwear / "It was rather a comical sight to see us. Only
those that were on watch were dressed. I was there with only a pair of
skibbies and a pair of shoes on. Others had on a hat and shoes and
underwear. / ....">>

[Apparently "skibbies" = "skivvies", = "US Navy underwear".]


_Kansas City Times_ (edition of _Kansas City Star_), 16 March 1920: p. 15:

[Article about new men's fashions]

EXISTENCE. / New Pink or Light Blue Suits Just the Thing for Easter, and
as for Pajamas, They're Utterly Adorable. / ... Old Squire Fashion,
silent partner of the well known dame of that name, is on his way back
from Paris with a lot of pretty things to make us boys look and feel our
handsomest in the Easter parade. / .... / The 1920 issue of men's spring
skivvies are very delicate and clingy in texture, soothing in tint, and
somewhat Ritz-Carlton in price, being made of silk in Fauntleroy pink,
light blue and orange-ade yellow ....>>

[Here "skivvies" is not restricted to the Navy ... but I don't think
it's an entirely serious article.]


_Macon [GA] Daily Telegraph_, 2 April 1920: p. 3:

[On 1 April, a woman dressed as a man attempts to enlist in the Navy,
but flees when told to disrobe for physical exam]

<<"Now come in here and shell off," commanded "Mutt" Brewer, the
recruiting officer .... / "Do what?" was the surprised reply. / "Shuck
off your duds from gadgets to skivvies, bub; strip, let's see the color
of your skin," explained the examining officer.>>

[I guess the word "gadgets" may refer to jewelry or miscellaneous
accessories. This word seems to have been popular in naval circles. The
"a" in this word is indistinct in the reproduced page but I can't read
it as anything else reasonable.]


I don't know the etymology of "skivvies"/"skibbies". I have the same old
candidates: (1) "Skibby" = "Jap[anese]", likely < Japanese "sukebe[i]" =
"lecher[ous]" (said to have originally referred to Japanese prostitutes
on the American west coast, ca. 1910) (but what is Japanese or lewd
about naval underwear?); (2) "skivvy" (= "slavey") = "female domestic
servant" (of unknown origin itself AFAIK) (but what is servant-like
about naval underwear?). Anybody have any new information or notions?

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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