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 formsskir·mish·er, nounout·skir·mish, verb (used with object)

Synonyms for skirmish

Synonym study

1. See battle1. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for skirmish

Contemporary Examples of skirmish

Historical Examples of skirmish

  • Went with Pierre to the summit of Skirmish Hill, and took angles.

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


    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


(intr often foll by with) to engage in a skirmish
Derived Formsskirmisher, noun

Word Origin for skirmish

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

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