Well, it’s Robbie Burns Day. I had my bit of haggis on the weekend – since my wife can’t abide the stuff, I take it when I can get it – and now I’m honouring the bard with just a wee skosh of Scotch, without skoosh. I’m not in the mood to get sloshed, but I might top it up just a skosh, unless my wife scotches the idea.
Ah, skosh. You can hear it just splashing in the glass, can’t you? Of course, it doesn’t mean “a splash” or “a dash” necessarily; it just means “a little bit”. But it has that fun splashy sound and sits on the page with that jaunty k, very much like skoosh, which is another fun word. If skoosh sounds to you like soda fresh out of the fountain, that’s because it means that – a carbonated drink, or any splashing beverage, really, or a spray of aerosol. And the verb skoosh means, basically, “gush”. It’s onomatopoeic, like a quick sketch of a sploosh.
But back to skosh for a wee sec. It has something in common with Scotch, certainly; the difference in sound is only that Scotch has an affricate at the end where skosh has a plain fricative. It also has as much in common with skoosh, just a difference in vowel. But are they related?
Well, skoosh appears to have been invented in Scotland. Scotch, for its part, is short for Scottish, an originally Germanic word for the truculent Gaels who could not be displaced from the northern part of Great Britain. (Scots Gaelic for “Scottish” is Albannach.) Meanwhile, skosh is a shortened form of sukoshi, Japanese for “a little” or “somewhat”.
Japanese? Oh my, wrong island. Yes, in fact, the term was brought into English by American servicemen, a half century after skoosh first appeared and many centuries after the roots of Scotch. Well, not to worry. The Japanese make some mighty fine whisky, too. It’s not peaty – not seaweedy, either – but has a nice, smooth, highland-style taste, with the sort of refinement you might expect from the country that invented sake. If you’re the sort of person who likes Macallan and Glenlivet, I suggest giving Yamazaki (made by Suntory) and Yoichi a try. (I’m told they also do Islay- and Speyside-style whiskies; I just haven’t tried them.)
Now… who can tell me what the Japanese is for “Here’s tae us! Wha’s like us? Gae few, and they’re a’ deid!”
It’s always been my understanding that Skoosh means ‘easy’ as used by Kenny MacAskill, Scotland’s justice secretary, when he described prisons thus:
“It’s a bit of a skoosh, frankly”.