Etymology of the Day: Skosh

“Some more coffee?”
“Just a skosh more, please.”

“These brownies are so delicious!”
“I add a skosh of cayenne pepper to the batter.”

Skosh is a fun and informal term for a small amount or a little, but its origins are mighty surprising.

skosh.jpg
Just a skosh. Image from pixabay.com
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Skosh

During the occupation of Japan at the end of World War II, US forces borrowed some vocabulary from Japanese. One word was sukoshi (寡し, 少し), meaning “little” or “few,” variously used of quantities, time, and distances. Americans dropped the u and i, yielding skosh.

US fighters brought skosh over to the Korean War in the early 1950s and then back home. The Oxford English Dictionary first cites the word in Arthur Norman’s 1955 article in American Speech, “Bamboo English: The Japanese Influence Upon American Speech in Japan.” Norman used “Bamboo English” for a Japanese-English pidgin servicemen were developing over there, though the term had been previously used in a 1929 article about a pidgin that emerged after the American-Philippine War.

Norman explains:

Bamboo English employs sukoshi ‘few, some’ and its antonym takusan ‘plenty,’ both of which are forthwith made into two-syllable words, dispensing with the voiceless Japanese u.

After detailing a handful of other such borrowings, Norman concludes that few:

…can be expected to remain lasting contributions to the American language. It is a pity that ichiban, sukoshi, takusan, chotto, matte, dozo, anone, benjo, and mus will not enjoy a similar immortality [to loans like sayonara], but linguistic survival has been and remains governed by the laws of the jungle.

I suspect Norman would be a skosh more than pleased that sukoshi, in its own small way, lives on.

m ∫ r ∫

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