The temperatures have been around 70°F/21°C, which yesterday prompted three-year-old Grover to drag herself around in her shirtsleeves* protesting "I'm very VERY BOILING." This is how I know that my child is English. And that she watches too much Charlie and Lola.
Given the weather and that I have a lot of reading to do for work, I went to the picnic tables outside my building this afternoon. I had expected to find, as I had on Wednesday, some competition for seats in sunny spaces, as everyone would be wanting to work outside. But there was no one there. (I took photos. I have no photos. Why, oh why, great Internet, has my iPhone 3G not uploaded any photos during syncing for the past three weeks?) My conclusion: everyone else had decided to leave work early on a sunny, non-term-time Friday.
But this is what I actually thought: Everyone but me seems to have skived off.
And then I thought: I have no idea how to say that in American English.
I put the question to the Twittersphere and received a lot of responses (thank you, all of you!), but none of them were what I was looking for. Most seemed to be about what one does when one doesn't go to school:
(AmE): play hooky, cut class, skip classI wanted one that was specifically about slinking out of work early. (The responders may have assumed that I was talking about students, since (a) non-Sussexers mostly don't know that we're between terms at the moment and (b) many people assume that university [BrE] lecturers/[AmE in the sense that I mean it here!] professors don't do any work when we're not teaching. I would like to disabuse anyone and everyone of that notion, but it would involve a good solid hour of ranting and possibly minor physical violence and loss of property.) Here's the OED definition for skive:
The term is originally from the military, so perhaps the best AmE equivalent is go AWOL (=absent without leave; marked in OED as 'orig. U.S.'), though that sounds a bit too permanent. The best suggestion that I had from the Twitterpersons was (AmE) ditch, which American Heritage also defines as being about school: ' To skip (class or school).' But, unlike the above suggestions, I can more easily use it about work (I ditched work to play Scrabble today) and to mean that I left early, rather than that I didn't show up at all. I think ditch allows this flexibility because it has other, related AmE senses concerning derailing (of trains) and ridding oneself of things or people (let's ditch Lynne and have some real fun)--which may at some level all run together as a big meaning-mass. One can transfer hooky from school to workplace too (e.g. I played hooky from work), but it, like skip, generally means not showing up at all.
intr. To evade a duty, to shirk; to avoid work by absenting oneself, to play truant. Also with off.
***NEWSFLASH (orig. AmE)***As I was previewing this post, about to hit *send*, two Twitterphiles suggested AmE blow off as in blow off work. That's pretty damned good. But it still isn't quite skive (see the bullet list below and compare). And I'm excited to have the excuse to mention another difference. In AmE you can blow off a person by not showing up to an arranged meeting. In BrE you would blow [them] out. I've been told by UKers that blow off sounds obscene, but to my AmE ears blow out sounds violent--like a (AmE) tire/(BrE) tyre bursting. Now back to your regularly scheduled nonsense.
BrE has its own expressions for not going to school, including bunk off, which happens to be the first thing I thought of when I was looking for a synonym for skive. Bunk off comes from bunk meaning 'to run off', and though it's associated particularly with school, there are over 75K Google hits for bunk off work. [Added a few hours later:] A friend on Facebook has pointed out (AusE, but apparently known in BrE) wag, which the Online Slang Dictionary defines it as 'to not attend school or work, without permission'.
The only other possible translation for skive that I can think of is the general English shirk. But it just doesn't have the same connotations. Shirking ones duties is morally wrong, but skiving can be (in the current slang, at least--possibly not in the military) just a bit mischievous. (Or it can be morally bad. But my indignation about skivers this afternoon was a mock indignation--something harder to carry off when calling people shirkers).
So, I come to the conclusion that skive is a wonderful BrE word that has no equivalent.
- I love that it is intransitive (requires no noun after it). While words like cut, ditch and skip make you mention the thing that you're ignoring, skive lets you really ignore it.
- I love that it can be a noun, and one can have a good skive.
- I love that you can do it by leaving work or being at work (see: The Art of Skiving)
- I love that it is a grown-up activity, rather than a concept borrowed from childhood.
- We are serious about work, but not too serious.
- [W]e also believe it is a bit of a [BrE] fag (general English translation: drag, bother) and a nuisance [...]
- We indignantly disapprove of those who avoid work [...] but this reflects our strict, almost religious belief in 'fairness', rather than in the belief in the sanctity of work itself (such people are seen as 'getting away with' idleness, while the rest of us, who would equally like to be idle, have to work, which is just not fair).
- We often maintain that we would rather not work, but our personal and social identity is in fact very much bound up with work. [...]
- We also have vestigial traces of a 'culture of amateurism', involving an instinctive mistrust of 'professionalism' and businesslike efficiency [...]
* Is this AmE? It isn't in Collins or OED (that I can find). It is on Macmillan's website, but I generally find them to be more dialectally inclusive. It means: wearing a shirt but no jacket or (BrE) jumper/(AmE) sweater, etc.
† Here I can only talk about English, not general British--you'll have to enlighten me about whether Fox's observations on the English reach any further.