A skittish pony is one that is characterised by unpredictable, unstable behaviour, usually because of nervousness. A skittish investor is one that is over-cautious or who quickly pulls out of a trade or deal. Merriam Webster.

The common denominator appears to me to be the unreliable characteristic of man or beast, resulting in unpredictable behaviour.

There is a noun, skite, with an accompanying verb, which the OED lists as part of Scottish and 'Northern' dialect.

'On the skite' is Scottish for being drunk. 'A skite' is a ricochet or a glancing blow.

I wonder if the unreliable nature of an inebriated person or a sideways blow or a glancing ricochet indicates that 'skittish' originates with 'skite'.

The vulgar verb 'skite', to defecate, is very obscure and the Australian/New Zealand meaning of 'skite' - 'boastfulness or conceit' seems to be unrelated, but the Scottish use of 'skite' or 'skyte' as someone who babbles or 'blethers' without logic or consequence may also have a bearing. All from OED

Does 'skittish' derive from 'skite' ?


The two terms appear to have in common the Scandinavian root skyt- meaning “to shoot or move quickly”. Skite however is a more recent term than skittish.


early 15c., "very lively, frivolous," *perhaps from Scandinavian base skyt- (stem of Old Norse skjota "to shoot, launch, move quickly"), from PIE root *skeud- "to shoot, chase, throw." Sense of "shy, nervous, apt to run" first recorded c. 1500, of horses.


“contemptible person," 1790, Scottish and Northern, earlier "sudden stroke or blow" (1785), perhaps from Old Norse skyt-, from skjota "to shoot" (see shoot (v.)). Old Norse skita "to shit" might have had some influence on the sense of the English word.

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