The noun skirmish was first used in English in the 1374 Chaucer epic Troilus and Criseyde, where it was spelled skarmuch. Other variations since then have included skarmoch, scaramosh, scarmoge, scarmouch, skarmyssh, skarmish, scarmysshe, skarmich, skyrmissh, skyrmysh, skermysche, skermish, skermedge, and so many others that the word will seem senseless if I list them; skirmish wasn't a standard spelling until the nineteenth century. Through Old French escarmouche, the word traces to Italian scaramuccia. If you're a Queen fan, you might recognize that as the root of the name Scaramouche, which means "little skirmisher" (and was a stock clown character in 1500s Italian comedies). Earlier on, scaramuccia was schermugio, and that is thought to eventually derive from Proto-Indo-European sker, meaning "to cut", on a connection of defense.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.