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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.
Origin of 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.
Synonym Study
1. See battle1. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for skirmish
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Went with Pierre to the summit of skirmish Hill, and took angles.

  • The skirmish lasted about fifteen minutes, the enemy firing from the houses.

    Ridgeway Scian Dubh
  • I cut him nigh to the saddle-bow in a skirmish on the eve of Dunbar.

    Micah Clarke Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Have you forgot the skirmish on the Rhine bank, when you did flash your snapphahn at me?

    Micah Clarke Arthur Conan Doyle
  • But after a skirmish or two, what with the roads and what with the enemy, our horses were foundered and useless.

    Micah Clarke Arthur Conan Doyle
British Dictionary definitions for skirmish


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 skirmish

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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