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[skur-mish] /ˈskɜr mɪʃ/
Military. a fight between small bodies of troops, especially advanced or outlying detachments of opposing armies.
any brisk conflict or encounter:
She had a skirmish with her landlord about the rent.
verb (used without object)
to engage in a skirmish.
1300-50; (noun) Middle English skirmysshe < Old French eskirmiss-, long stem of eskirmir < Germanic (compare Old High German skirman); replacing Middle English scarmouche < Old French escaramoucher (see Scaramouch); (v.) late Middle English scarmuchen, scarmusshen to skirmish, Middle English skirmisshen to brandish a weapon < Old French escar(a)mucher to skirmish; vowels influenced by Old French eskirmiss-
Related forms
skirmisher, noun
outskirmish, verb (used with object)
1. combat, brush. See battle1 . Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for skirmishes
  • The first skirmishes of an undeclared cold war between them already have been fought.
  • He shouldered his musket during the college vacations, and fought in many of the skirmishes at the beginning of the war.
  • Then a long silence ensued, broken by brief skirmishes.
  • Many current political arguments are skirmishes and turf battles in what is a movement toward what one might call somatic rights.
  • These regional disputes have already led to a handful of small-scale naval skirmishes and diplomatic stand-offs.
  • The top people look tired, and political skirmishes haven't been skillfully managed.
  • There are skirmishes and there are battles, and there are wars.
  • It seems content to keep the protesters penned in their villages and to let the daily skirmishes continue.
  • For now, these skirmishes fall far short of a real currency war.
  • skirmishes over pasture are common, but there is little evidence that environmental factors cause full-scale wars.
British Dictionary definitions for skirmishes


a minor short-lived military engagement
any brisk clash or encounter, usually of a minor nature
(intransitive) often foll by with. to engage in a skirmish
Derived Forms
skirmisher, noun
Word Origin
C14: from Old French eskirmir, of Germanic origin; related to Old High German skirmen to defend
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for skirmishes



late 14c., from Old French escarmouche "skirmish," from Italian scaramuccia, earlier schermugio, probably from a Germanic source (cf. Old High German skirmen "to protect, defend"), with a diminutive or depreciatory suffix, from Proto-Germanic *skerm-, from PIE *(s)ker- (1) "to cut" (see shear).

Influenced in Middle English by a separate verb skirmysshen "to brandish a weapon," from Old French eskirmiss-, stem of eskirmir "to fence," from Frankish *skirmjan, from the same Germanic source. Cf. also scrimmage. Other modern Germanic forms have an additional diminutive affix: German scharmützel, Dutch schermutseling, Danish skjærmydsel. Skirmish-line attested by 1864.


c.1200, from Old French escarmouchier, from Italian scaramucciare (see skirmish (n.)). Related: Skirmished; skirmishing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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