SKITE v dart, shoot through the air, fall or be driven in a slanting direction
Skite is one of these Scots words that defies translation into English. We find it used of the unimpeded slanting motion of a shooting star in a poem by Allan Ramsay (1720)
“Like a shot Starn, that thro’ the Air Skyts East or West with unko Glare”.
Equally, it can refer to something rebounding or glancing off course. Hail, for example is often described as skiting and this usage is reflected in a simile by J. Tweeddale in Moff (1895):
“It only skited off ’im like a shoor o’ hailstanes”.
A particularly vivid example comes from the Buchan Observer (28 Aug 1951):
“Frost so keen as to make the scythe blades ‘skyte’, when they came in contact with the flattened and whitened corn”.
If someone skites on ice, it is a much more dramatic mishap than just slipping.
Skiting can be unpredictable. Robin Jenkins illustrated the unpredictability of skiting in The Thistle and the Grail (1954):
“Don’t tell me he’s bald, for I don’t trust centre-forwards wi’ slippery heids, though, mind you, the goalie can never be sure what way the ball’s going to skite".
It also implies speed as in this item from Peeblesshire News (28 Oct. 1960):
“He skites through the racin’ page like a rid hot knife through a quarter o’ margarine”.
Literal or figurative violence may also be also involved as in Joe Corrie’s The Last Day (1928):
“Idle time an’ wee peys sune skite the beauty aff us”.
As a noun, it can mean a glancing blow, a piece of mischief, a squirt of liquid, a short sharp shower or a small quantity of drink. ‘On the skite’ denotes a bit of a spree and in the Anthology of Orkney Verse edited by E. W. Marwick (1949) we cheerfully read that “Vikings on the skite find Valhalla for wan night”.
Scots Word of the Week is written by Chris Robinson of Scottish Language Dictionaries
First published December 2012