Daily Archives: November 21, 2010


“Alright,” I said to young Marcus Brattle, “let’s get down to work, and no skiving.”

We were at the dining room table at his house, my young mentee and I, and today’s topic was syntax. Marcus had not so far warmed very much to the syntax trees I was having him draw.

“Skiving,” Marcus said. “Sounds like good sport.”

“And you’re always game for good sport,” I said. “But let’s start by drawing a tree for that sentence: ‘Skiving sounds like good sport.'”

“No, but what I mean is, it sounds rather like skydiving.”

“Indeed it does,” I conceded. “With a little insertion. And looks like skindiving, with a little insertion.”

“In fact,” said Marcus, writing the word out, “it looks like skiing, with just a little v in the middle carving a snowplow through it. You know, I’d like to ski for a living. But of course if you do it for a living it’s not skiving. Sport is much more fun when you’re getting away from work to do it.”

“Getting away – but are you simply carving off, perhaps darting quickly and lightly as another meaning for skiving has it, or slinking away, as French esquiver – a possible source for skive – means?”

“Slinking away in something slinky?” Marcus said. “Perhaps your skivvies?”

“I would think that would be a short break.”

“But you know,” Marcus said, “this word conceals a horde of Vikings.”

“And is raiding other towns and countries a way to shirk work, the ultimate laddish road trip,” I asked, “or is it work itself? I’m inclined to think the latter, since skiving is often used in the army to refer to dodging duty.”

“Dodging mopping and boring things like that,” Marcus said. “Everyone likes marauding and destroying. It’s fun.”

It occurred to me that Marcus had, in his little way, some direct knowledge of the enjoyability of marauding and destroying.

“Well,” I said, “but the point is that with skiving there’s no risking.” I wrote the rearranged letters and showed the v pinching together to become an r.

“There’s risking getting pinched,” Marcus said, meaning getting caught. “There’s risking your mentor noticing that you’re not doing any work.”

I paused and raised an eyebrow. He had succeeded in diverting the work he didn’t like for a couple of minutes already.

“But thanks,” Marcus added with a little smile, “for being a good sport.”