Skelf in a sentence

Scots words are often much better at conveying their meaning than their English counterparts. Take skelf, for example – not literally of course. A skelf is to be avoided at all costs.

A skelf is a short, sharp word for a short, sharp thing that makes you give a short, sharp yelp of pain. It is a small thin piece of wood that, quite literally, gets right under your skin. Its English equivalent is splinter which is not nearly so atmospheric.

The skelf is particularly common in childhood. Children are much more likely than adults to indulge in pursuits that lead them to be attacked by skelfs. They tend to do things like run their hands along fences or walls as they walk along, or climb trees.

I wondered if today’s ultra-protected children were less likely to fall foul of skelfs than those of yesteryear. However, apparently today’s fad for sanded wooden floors has led to an increase of skelfs in the feet. This is particularly true of floors sanded by the enthusiastic, but inexperienced, DIY amateur. These often end up more skelfy (for skelf has its very own adjective) than smooth

A skelf can be applied to a person. In this sense, the word does not apply, as you might think, to someone who is a right pain, but to someone who is very small and thin, and consequently weak. It is mostly used insultingly, often by macho men. Thus, you will not found find Scots fashionistas using skelf to describe their size zero models (although skelf is an apt term for them).

I was told recently that someone had come across skelf used as a term of endearment. I can think of nothing less endearing than a skelf.

My thanks to all those who posted comments and suggestions such as hen and flyting. I will get round to them shortly. Watch this space.

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