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Skate
Posted: 25 November 2007 03:34 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Portsmouth, England, the town in which I have long lived, has, of course, a long naval tradition. Sailors are referred to here familiarly as skates. I had thought this a slang term of general usage but OED seems unaware of it. It does have a slang entry (skate, n, 3) but this is marked as chiefly US (eg cheapskate), has no nautical cites and seems totally unconnected.

The net is of little help, save for the amusement provided by the bizarre entry in Urban Dictionary:

Skate

Originates from Naval sailors of Portsmouth in England getting lonely while at sea. These sick individuals would get a skate fish, slit it in half and nail it to a board. This would then be used to provide sexual pleasure.

BTW it also adds, “Hence people from Portsmouth are known as Skates.”, which is completely false.

So is there any reliable information on the origin of the term as used here?

[ Edited: 25 November 2007 09:31 PM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 25 November 2007 04:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The PIE base skei has a history of “something hollowed out”, such as a boat, and the base took off from there through the usual language changes. It seems unlikely that sailors had this clue, but maybe some Port Admiral was having fun by mystifying everyone. Reliable, not so much, and a lot less entertaining than the happy crew fish story.

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Posted: 25 November 2007 09:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Partridge, 8th ed.: //skate, n. A troublesome rating: RN: since ca. 1920 .... ‘A leave-breaker and “bad hat”, generally. A skater on the thin ice of Naval law and discretion’ (Granville) ....//

Possible ancestor, according to Paul Beale (in Partridge, 8th ed.):

‘Hotten’ slang dictionary, 1860: //SKATES LURK, a begging impostor dressed as a sailor.//

But cf. “skite”, a derogatory term apparently related to “shite”. Cf. “blatherskite”, “cheapskate”.

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Posted: 26 November 2007 06:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The OED has skate, a mean and contemptible person, from 1896. The first citation is in the form cheapskate (see skate, n3). Skite, in the same sense, is dated to the 1790s.

One possible origin, though, is simply skate = fish = sailor. US soldiers refer to US Navy sailors as squids.

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Posted: 26 November 2007 10:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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When I was a “squid” the word was used as both noun and verb to mean “goldbricking”.  A “skate” was someone sluffing off work.  “Skating” meant to do little or nothing.

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Posted: 26 November 2007 11:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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That sense of skate comes from ice-skating, to move or glide with apparent effortlessness.

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Posted: 09 October 2008 11:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I have been studying this word for many years, i have found that the word SKATE is not directed at sailors generally. It actually describes anybody who was born, lived or even died in the Portsmouth area . It is a fact that “Skates” make fish love at every opportunity. Also see Skatesville.

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Posted: 10 October 2008 12:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Skate meaning sailor is a foreign name to us in the north, so I’ve learned something new today as well as some other interesting Portsmouth words:
scabs - winkles
dockyard oyster - a pool of phlegm
dinlo - Romany word for a fool
squinny - complain
hard - firm beach
mudlark - boy who dives into mud for the amusement of train passengers
mush - friend
squibbling - encouraging squabbling
puggled - knocked silly
treader - bicycle

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Posted: 10 October 2008 04:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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You wouldn’t hear a Portsmouth teenager today addressing another as mush, which, by the way, is wrongly defined as friend. OED correctly defines as “a man, a fellow, a ‘bloke’. Freq. as a form of address.”. It’s also not peculiar to Portsmouth, I’ve heard it all over the South, London included.

Mudlarks no longer dive and scrabble in the mud for thrown coins, and have not for many a long year, hence the word itself has fallen into desuetude. That too is not specifically a Portsmouth word.. As the OED cites below indicates, both term and phenomenon have a far greater connection with London.

mudlark

2. colloq.

a. A person who scavenges for usable debris in the tidal mud of a river, harbour, etc. Also: someone who scavenges for such debris in a sewer; (in extended use) a beggar who operates near a river (rare); a person who cleans out or clears a sewer (rare). Now chiefly hist.

1796 P. COLQUHOUN Police of Metropolis iii. 60 Men and boys, known by the name of Mud-larks, who prowl about, and watch under the ships when the tide will permit.

1804 M. EDGEWORTH Lame Jervas xi, in Pop. Tales I. 77 He..became what is called a mud-lark; that is a plunderer of the ships cargoes that unload in the Thames

Squinny is still going strong and the first OED cite indicates that it is indeed a Hampshire dialect term. (Portsmouth is in the county of Hampshire).

intr. to weep or cry; to fret

1847- in dial. glossaries (Hants, I. Wight).

Dinlo is still much used. Not in OED, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were a Romany word. Portsmouth historically had a sizable encampment of gypsies, horse traders whose chief customer was HM Dockyard.

Squibbling and puggler are both unknown to me.

As for Dr Stu Saint, study or no study, I’ve lived in Portsmouth for the best part of half a century. During that period I have never heard a single person use skate to mean a Portsmuthian. A skate is a sailor, neither more nor less

[ Edited: 10 October 2008 04:26 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 10 October 2008 05:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I’d be interested to hear some more Portsmouth dialect words and phrases if you know of any.  I can’t think of any from my home town, so I’m curious.

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Posted: 07 February 2009 06:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Dave Wilton - 26 November 2007 06:59 AM

The OED has skate, a mean and contemptible person, from 1896. The first citation is in the form cheapskate (see skate, n3). Skite, in the same sense, is dated to the 1790s.

Does it give an origin for that meaning of “skate”?

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Posted: 07 February 2009 07:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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No, the OED says “origin uncertain.”

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Posted: 07 February 2009 08:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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astal - 10 October 2008 05:33 AM

I’d be interested to hear some more Portsmouth dialect words and phrases if you know of any.  I can’t think of any from my home town, so I’m curious.

Specific or original to Portsmouth? I’d be hard pressed to think of any, other than the aforementioned skates. Often what’s termed ‘local slang’ turns out to be anything but. Here’s a ludicrous example, taken from an enthusiastic review of a book on ‘Portsmouth’ slang, which appeared in our local rag a while back.  (” ..... he has compiled a dictionary of local slang that is a comprehensive guide to the odd phrases that are peculiar to this part of the world.") At least 99% of the words listed are not peculiar to Portsmouth, and have no connection to the area at all, other than the author having heard someone here use them at some point. (Spondulicks meaning cash, for instance, is an American college term from the 19th century - such uncritical acceptance of anything shoved under their noses is typical of the News journalists.)

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Posted: 23 July 2009 11:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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’Skate’ is a term long used by supporters of Southampton Football Club to refer to a supporter of the team from the neighbouring city, Portsmouth.  The rivalry between the two sets of supporters is fierce and the term is meant to be derogatory. It is supposed to be a reference to a story that sexually frustrated seafarers from Portsmouth (which has an historic association with the Royal Navy) would ‘make love’ to skates which have rather obvious sexual organs. An extract from an article in the Independant from May 1995 is an amusing reference to the legend:

“ THE mermaid legend supposedly arose from sightings of manatees or dugongs by grizzled old salts who had been at sea for too long. But there must be more to the fable. Those sailors must have been glugging away for weeks at paraffin destined for the ship’s lamps, if they really mistook a woman combing her hair with a muddy brown sea cow that can weigh 600 kilos.

Another, less well-known myth concerns fishermen who spent weeks gazing lustily at their voluptuous figurehead, with nothing to relieve their sexual tension but the tedium of hauling in nets. If the stories are true - and I merely repeat them as a historical anecdote - the fishermen became hopelessly aroused when they landed female skate.

The topside of these strange fish is mottled so they can hide on the seabed, but the underside is a pale white, not unlike human skin. Skate, which are related to sharks, even look as if they are smiling at you (though they resemble those upside-down Ben Elton faces). The nostrils look like eyes and the mouth is remarkably humanoid, with large, fleshy lips. But the horny sea dogs didn’t just want to kiss the fish. At the base of a skate’s spiky tail is its reproductive organ, which bears a vague similarity to its human counterpart. If maritime tradition is true, battles were fought for the right to have their wicked way with a particularly attractive skate.

I pass no judgement over the practice, which makes tales about sheep and remote hill farms seem like something from Jackanory. But if true, love-making must have been extremely uncomfortable. The thornback skate has very sharp rosebush-like spikes, called bucklers, along its back and tail. It would be like making love to a gooseberry bush. Kissing a skate wouldn’t be a lot of fun either. Those sexy “lips” can crush a hard-backed crab. But I suppose love always finds a way, even if it does make your cabin smell a bit.”

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Posted: 23 July 2009 12:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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This site permits hotlinks of thumbnail images:
ARKive logo
Big skate, ventral view
For a larger image, click here.
This is apparently not a thornback skate, and I don’t know if it’s a male or female.  I’m not seeing anything that arouses lust in my heart, though.

[ Edited: 23 July 2009 12:27 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 23 July 2009 07:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Could ‘skate’ have come from the sea-faring Dutch?

From http://www.absp.org.uk/words/boats.html comes this definition:

“schuit, schuyt” - a Dutch flat-bottomed boat, used along canals and round the coast.

Presumably the Dutch pronunciation sounds somewhat like the English ‘skate’?

re Dutchtoo’s point below: Perhaps I should have said, “the English pronunciation/rendition of the Dutch word might have sounded like ‘skate’ ?”

[ Edited: 24 July 2009 12:23 AM by Skibberoo ]
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