What does the word ‘skeevy’ mean?

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Increase your vocabulary, and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: skeevy….

I choose today’s word, skeevy, not because I didn’t know what it meant but because I wanted to take the chance to explore its etymology.

I encountered it in an Aug. 7 & 14/17 New Yorker review of  Tom Perrotta’s latest novel, Mrs Fletcher. Written by Laura Miller, the review appeared under the headline, “A Family Affair.” But, interestingly, the Internet version of the story carried a different headline, using the word in question: “When the suburbs get skeevy.” Here is how Miller used the adjective:

Brendan has inherited some of his father’s skeevy prerogatives.

I’d long understood the word to mean “sleazy,” the use employed here, but some quick research revealed that it can also mean creepy, dirty, dodgy, repulsive and nasty. Typically, the word is used to describe people but it can also apply to situations or objects, such as the garbage bins in the picture above.

The word is Italian in origin, schifo meaning ‘repugnance, disgust.’ (In Italian, SCH is pronounced with a hard K sound.) It dates back to as recently as the 1970s.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Aug. 30/17.

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