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I told my EFL students that in general, "skip school/a lesson/class" has a negative connotation. So, when speaking to a teacher, a student should say "I can't come to class tomorrow" rather than "I'm going to skip class tomorrow." But it then occurred to me that "skip school" may be neutral in some contexts.

It's been a long time since I was a student, and I'm not sure I can trust my intuition. Would the following sentences be socially acceptable, or odd/impolite?

  1. (A student to a teacher) "Would it be all right if I skip next week's lesson? I've got a doctor's appointment."

  2. (a parent to a teacher) "Tommy needs to skip school for a few days for family reasons. Could he get his assignments in advance?"

For additional context, this question came up when reading an article like this one from the BBC, titled "Swedish teen Greta Thunberg skips school for climate protest." https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-europe-45439003

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    It seems to me casual to the point of rudeness. Surely the student should ask permission to be absent, even though they have a valid reason (and, in the case of a school pupil, their parents should clear it with the school office)? Oct 27, 2020 at 8:55
  • Thank you. So, would you also say that "Would it be all right if I skip next week's class because (insert reason)?" is rude?
    – Gedi Trite
    Oct 27, 2020 at 11:11
  • I edited my example sentences to make them more polite, aside from "skip," which is the focus of my question.
    – Gedi Trite
    Oct 27, 2020 at 12:26
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    To me, “skipping” something means doing so without permission, or at least without notice. We “miss” or “be absent” with permission/notice.
    – StephenS
    Oct 27, 2020 at 12:52

2 Answers 2

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Skipping school is most often something done without permission, and that sense contributes to its rudeness. The Oxford English Dictionary gets at that sense in its phrasing of this definition ("skip, v.1," def. 6b):

6.b. To absent oneself from, stay away from.

"To absent oneself" suggests that the student is usually the one deciding their own absence. Indeed, skipping school, or a phenomenon like "senior skip day" (Wikipedia), is very frequently illicit. Besides the inherent challenge to authority posed by absenting oneself, educators and law enforcement may associate skipping with other negative behaviors:

These teens may also drop old friends and activities, skip school, lose interest in school, receive low grades, sleep in class, lose concentration, and have trouble with memory. (Justice.gov)

If the threat of fines or jail time isn't enough to prompt parents to address truancy, research suggests that teens who regularly skip school are more likely than their peers to drop out of school or experiment with drugs and alcohol. (US News)

Often, the usage occurs when the parents do not know that their child is skipping. That said, sometimes parents may permit skipping school as well, if they see a specific need that goes outside of socially sanctioned cases for absence like a funeral or a religious holiday. One parent explains allowing a "mental health day" in terms of skipping:

In fact, I’ve let my kids, including my preschooler, skip school several times since then, and will continue letting them do this as they get older. Admittedly, my work-from-home job affords me the flexibility to keep them home on a whim. But more importantly, I’ve come to realize something: Kids need mental health days, too. (Today's Parent)

That usage is as close to neutral as it gets, but there's still a slight sense of irregularity. Skipping is unannounced and unapproved by the school. Asking a teacher to skip would be regarded by many as impertinent.

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  • Many jurisdictions have truancy laws that make playing hooky a crime.
    – tchrist
    Oct 27, 2020 at 14:05
  • How does this apply to the specific examples provided in the question? Is there a contradiction in asking 'Would it be all right if I skip', given that one is explicitly asking for permission and yet using skip which is normally used for the absences that one chooses to undertake without asking for permission?
    – jsw29
    Oct 27, 2020 at 15:08
  • "How does this apply to the specific examples provided in the question?" "Asking a teacher to skip would be regarded by many as impertinent." Oct 27, 2020 at 16:09
  • Is it (merely) impertinent or self-contradictory? The former would be a matter of pragmatics, the latter a matter of semantics, so they would be very different ways of answering the question.
    – jsw29
    Oct 27, 2020 at 16:32
  • It would be definitely considered a bit cheeky or jokey. It's like saying "Can I steal this?" before helping yourself to something (which is a fairly common joke). Whether it's rude depends how familiar you are with a teacher and on the nature of the relationship (e.g. people would be less formal with a college TA around their own age than a child would be with a teacher at a school with traditional discipline policies).
    – Stuart F
    Mar 26, 2021 at 15:41
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(As StephenS mentioned in comments.) It's not rude as in foul language, but it is also a bit tactless. Use "miss" instead, or be more formal and ask if you can be absent. Not just for school but also for things like, "I'm sorry but I'll have to miss your wedding."

Not an official source, but I found a random internet post that agrees with my gut feeling: skip has a slight implication that you could attend if you wanted to, miss implies that you wanted to attend but are prevented from doing so. Of course, we often soften the truth and use the nice word "miss" when we actually just don't want to go.

News headlines generally don't bother with tact and prefer drama instead so they're not a good source, but in the Thunberg case it's correct. The not going to school was specifically the point of what she did, to draw attention to her protest. She could have protested outside of school hours, but that wouldn't have been as impactful. So she deliberately chose to skip school.

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