AskDefine | Define skiff

Dictionary Definition

skiff n : any of various small boats propelled by oars or by sails or by a motor

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. a small flat-bottomed open boat with a pointed bow and square stern
  2. Any of various types of boats small enough for sailing or rowing by one person
  3. A light wind/rain/snow, etc.
    A skiff of rain blew into the shed and the two men moved their chairs back.
  4. Used when referring to anyone (typically rednecks and fishermen) who has a degree of intelligence, but believes they are more than they actually are.

Extensive Definition

The term skiff is used, and has been used, to refer to many various types of small boats.
The word is related to ship and has a complicated etymology: it comes from the Middle English skif, which derives from the Old French esquif, which in turn derives from the Old Italian schifo, which is itself of Germanic origin.
In American usage, the term is used to apply to small sea-going fishing boats. It is referred to historically in literature in Moby-Dick by Herman Melville and The Old Man of the Sea by Ernest Hemmingway. The skiff could be powered by sails as well as oars. One current usage of skiff is to refer to a typically small flat-bottomed open boat with a pointed bow and a flat stern originally developed as an inexpensive and easy to build boat for use by inshore fishermen. Originally designed to be powered by rowing, their form has evolved so that they are efficiently powered by outboard motors. The design is still in common use today for both work and pleasure craft.
The Thames skiff is a round-bottom clinker-built rowing boat that is still very common on the River Thames and other rivers in England. It features in Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome the book about a journey up the Thames, During the year, skiffing regattas are held in various river-side towns in England - the major event being the Skiff Championships at Henley.
The term skiff is also used to refer to a type of high performance sailing dinghy, one that usually features an asymmetrical spinnaker and requires that the crew use a trapeze to help balance the boat. Examples include: Cherub Skiff,12ft Skiff, International 14 (14ft skiff), 16ft Skiff, 18ft Skiff, 29er, 49er, Musto Skiff
There is a Central American/Mexican version of a skiff, generally called a Panga.
skiff in German: Skiff (Segeln)
skiff in French: Skiff
skiff in Dutch: Skiff
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