I heard someone talked about "skimming stones" but read in a book about "stone skipping".

Is one from the US and the other from the UK ? Is there any difference or do they have the exact same meaning ?

  • Hello, and welcome to EL&U. Interesting question. :) Jan 4, 2014 at 0:05
  • They are the same thing. Jan 4, 2014 at 0:08
  • Doesn't Sir Elton John sing a song with the words "skimming stones"? I think the name of the song is "Crocodile Rock." Jan 4, 2014 at 1:08
  • @rhetorician: He did indeed! Obviously Sir Elton John is a Brit, but it's interesting that he used the almost exclusively British verb in a song that was (presumably, intentionally) predominantly "American" in tone. We don't drive Chevies, and we don't say things like "Oh Lawdy mama!" as in the lyrics of that "mixed parentage" song. Jan 4, 2014 at 1:21
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    I want to thank all of you for your answers which were all very clear and useful !
    – Py.
    Jan 4, 2014 at 14:13

5 Answers 5


They mean the same, but there's a significant US/UK split. Here's the US usage...

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...and here's the UK usage...

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But whereas I personally would invariably refer to the activity itself as skimming stones, I see nothing unusual in this BBC piece from a few years ago...

How do you skim a stone 51 times?
Russell "Rock Bottom" Byars has skimmed his way into the record books, throwing a stone that skipped an amazing 51 times.

I would always say the pastime (what the person does) is skimming, but to me it's perfectly reasonable to refer to what the stone does as skipping (and to call each bounce a skip, not a skim).

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    I guess I must side squarely with the Americans on this one. ‘Skimming stones’ to me sounds like something only an extremely bad cook would ever have to do. Jan 4, 2014 at 0:34
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    @Janus: I think I've said this before - your user profile here doesn't specify location. But I'm guessing it's not the UK. The "adjectival" usage skipping stones doesn't sound quite so odd to my British ear - like my cited BBC reporter, I'm happy to say what the stone does can be called skipping. But to me, what the person did was skimmed a stone (no instances at all of BrE "skipped" there). Jan 4, 2014 at 0:53
  • The stones/pebbles skim the surface of the water. Would bounce work as well?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 4, 2014 at 0:58
  • You’re right, it’s not the UK—it’s Copenhagen. Which I suppose is a big part of the reason why my dialectal belonging in English is so random: half the time I find myself siding with the Brits, half the time I find myself siding with the Americans, and half the time I find myself wondering whom I actually do side with. Jan 4, 2014 at 0:59
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    @Mari-Lou: Bounce is a perfectly suitable word in this context - I used it myself in the final parenthetical point in my answer, and it occurs twice in the relatively short BBC piece I quoted from. Jan 4, 2014 at 1:13

They are the same.

skimming stones: to throw in a smooth, gliding path over or near a surface, or so as to bounce or ricochet along a surface:

...skimmed a stone across the lake.

skipping stones:to ricochet or bounce along a surface:

The stone skipped over the lake.

North America: "skipping rocks" or "skipping stones" (Wiki)


We use the term SKIMMING in Australia. Skipping stones doesn't sound right to an Australian Ear.



The word skip was used in The Dam Busters (1955), to refer to a bomb skipping over the water

In the early years of the Second World War, aeronautical engineer Barnes Wallis is struggling to develop a means of attacking Germany's dams in the hope of crippling German heavy industry. Working for the Ministry of Aircraft Production, as well as doing his own job at Vickers, he works feverishly to make practical his theory of a bouncing bomb which would skip over the water to avoid protective torpedo nets. (emphasis added)

Other answers have made it clear that either skim or skip can be used for mere stones, but for bombs, it's skip-bombing.


When I was a child in Norfolk in the 1940s/50s we talked about playing 'ducks and drakes'. I still call it that and am glad to see that Wiktionary recognises it.

But the whole question of assigning expressions as American or British is I believe fundamentally flawed. It seems to me that in Britain we are far less inclined to name things. In America it would appear that almost every practice has an official name. I once explained to an American that we had been out in the car and had taken some food to eat. 'Ah, you had a tail-gate picnic', he said. So in the USA even such a random practice as sitting on the rear bumper of your car eating a sandwich means you are doing something which has an official name assigned to it. I actually find this slightly claustrophobic.

Sometimes, when in America, I will use an expression which has just come into my head from nowhere and someone will say 'Oh, so that's what you say in Britain is it' - Er, no, it is just what I said 30 seconds ago!

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    I'm not going to update this because it's really more of an extended comment than an answer to the specific question. But I'm very much inclined to agree with the overall sentiment, which I think in part may reflect the fact that until now, there has probably always been a higher percentage of Americans who aren't fully confident that their English is good enough (specifically, non-native speakers, or the children thereof). That may all change in the coming decades, as the demographic profile of the UK changes with massively increased immigration. Jan 4, 2014 at 0:59
  • @FumbleFingers Your comment is apposite. But I also think the language feature is merely a microcosm of American society in general. Though I have no evidence for this I sense, for example, that a higher proportion of ready-meals are eaten in America than in Britain. Fast-food, chain restaurants, internet selling are similar features. Americans are prepared to accept higher levels of standardisation, which regrettably we are copying. Advantages include more consistency of quality, disadvantages - a frustration in creativity. This is especially so, I find, with language.
    – WS2
    Jan 4, 2014 at 7:53
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    I've heard of tailgaiting, and I've heard of picnicking, but this American wouldn't call "sitting on the rear bumper of your car eating a sandwich" either one of those. Shame to take one anecdote and generalize in so sweeping a fashion.
    – J.R.
    Jan 7, 2014 at 14:16
  • @Susan. May I suggest you read 'Fast Food Nation' by Eric Schlosser. There are people who only ever eat fast food, from a standard menu, 365 days of the year. I suppose whether you chose a Desperate Dan Burger or a Cheesey Whopper (I've no idea what they are really called), and whether you put salt on your chips, involves some level of creativity.
    – WS2
    Jan 8, 2014 at 1:10
  • @J.R According to Wikipedia there is no second 'i' in 'tailgating'.
    – WS2
    Jan 8, 2014 at 10:34

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