Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

A Skiff of Snow


skiff noun
A thin layer, small amount (esp in phr skiff/skift of snow = a light fall of snow).
1834 (in 1956 Eliason Tarheel Talk 294) last night we had a little skift of snow. 1904 Kephart Notebooks 2:600 A thin skift of clouds. 1939 Hall Coll. Cataloochee NC We just got out on top, and there was a little skift of snow a fallin’. (Will Palmer) ibid. Cataloochee NC They was a little skiff of snow, and that was how come to see their sign (Steve Woody) 1953 Hall Coll. Plott Creek NC My grandmother has told me that when they first were back there, and they’d be snow or anything, a skift of snow around the pens, they’d be bears and wolf tracks all about there trying to get the stock from the barn. (John Plott) 1966 DARE = the first thin ice that forms over the surface of a pond (Brunsville NC); There’s just a skiff of ice (Spruce Pine NC).
[OED skiff “a slight sketch, trace, touch, etc.” chiefly Scot; cf CUD/HT skift “a light shower”]

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


Sunday morning we awoke to the tiniest skiff of snow. I’m hoping the skiff helped prime the pump for a big snow.


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  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    January 25, 2019 at 8:56 pm

    Tipper I have heared a skift of snow did you ever hear the expression the big frost looks like a young snow ?

  • Reply
    Jim McGuire
    January 23, 2019 at 8:13 am

    I’ve heard and used “skift” it all my life, and written about “a skift of snow” several times in my columns and on my blog. It’s a word which doubtless came over with the Scotch-Irish, probably Scottish in origin (it’s still found in many of their dictionaries.) I believe the original spelling was “skift” and in growing up, my father always pointed this out to me: “Get that “t” in there when you say it, Sonny…it’s not a boat.” The OED lists both, though makes note in early editions that they’re reflecting more widespread pronunciations. I was taught that a skift of snow was more than a dusting, though not enough to completely cover, say, grass. Something less than an inch, but not so light as to be subject to being blown around by the wind. A skift was sufficient for tracking. I’ve never heard the word applied to anything other than snow, though the old dictionaries say it can be used for any light covering including sleet or blown sand. Anyway, I always enjoy your writings, and I’m glad to see someone else posting about “skift.” It’s a fine old word, precise in meaning, and doesn’t deserve being ignored into oblivion.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    January 22, 2019 at 2:32 pm

    I’ve never heard it called that, but we had it day before yesterday. Still a little on the ground–Mama used to say it was laying for another one.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 22, 2019 at 10:00 am

    I know you have heard this all your life! For instance…Because I was wanting a big flakey wet snow, I was telling my Grandmother, “Well, we had a little skiff of snow down here this morning”! Grandmother, “Honey, it’s too cold to snow! It’s going’ to have to warm up to get a big one!” All my kinfolks would say it was too cold to snow where I come from…It only got real cold and freezing after the snow was laying on the ground…or after it had warmed a bit started snowing and then the temperatures began to drop as the snow piles up….
    Thanks Tipper…

  • Reply
    January 22, 2019 at 9:36 am

    Those skiffs snows as you say Tipper, are colder than the big ones. I’m like Miss Cindy, im ready for Spring!!!!

  • Reply
    January 22, 2019 at 9:00 am

    If we keep our fingers crossed, you might get that big snow in a few days. You can have my share! The recent snow here has kept me indoors for three days. I think that set a record. It was the close to zero temperatures as much as the snow that kept me indoors and curled up in front of the wood stove. The Old Farmers Almanac is saying our worst weather is coming in mid February.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    January 22, 2019 at 8:57 am

    Skiff, that’s what I’ve always heard it called. The last big front that came through gave us a little more than a skiff. Problee bout an inch.
    I used to enjoy driving in snow with my 4 wheel drive but not any more. I guess I’m just getting old. Has anyone noticed that many drivers of 4 wheel drive fly on slick roads? That don’t work very well. I know from personal experience.

  • Reply
    January 22, 2019 at 8:55 am

    I’m with Bill, I’ve had enough of the snow and we surely have had enough of the cold for two days that it should have killed all the bugs. Don’t know about ya all but I’m ready for spring.

  • Reply
    Sheryl A Paul
    January 22, 2019 at 8:45 am

    What a descriptive word. You know the meaning without even thinking about ti

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 22, 2019 at 8:10 am

    Yes, skiff is what I’ve always heard it called. And that is what I would say without a second thought. The closest in meaning I have heard to it is a “dusting”. But to me a dusting is less than a skiff. By the time snow is one inch in the open on a flat surface it is past a skiff.

  • Reply
    January 22, 2019 at 7:01 am

    We rarely have a skiff, and it is much like a Summer shower–just enough to mess up your plans. Snow days can be a real treat when Winter drags on, because back in the day that was the only break you got from school or work. I used to keep a small shovel and a small bag of cat litter in the car. That cat litter works wonders to get your car unstuck in snow.

    The frigid temperatures recently are just going to make Spring look really good this year. I am already searching about to see who has seeds. Microgreens might keep me happy until I can plant a garden.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    January 22, 2019 at 6:46 am

    Nothing personal but I hope the skiff didn’t prime for a larger snow. My wife loves the snow also but after working in the ice and snow for 48 years whether you wanted to go or not it tends to lose it’s luster.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 22, 2019 at 5:10 am

    Tell you the truth, Tip, that skiff plus the low temperatures we’ve had are enough winter for me….I ready for spring now!

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      January 22, 2019 at 5:15 pm

      Spring is right around the corner! Problem is we can’t even see the corner yet!

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