From Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English scath, scathe [and other forms],[1] from Old Norse skaði (damage, harm; loss; death; murder), from Proto-Germanic *skaþô (damage, scathe; one who causes damage, injurer, noun) (whence Old English sċeaþa, sċeaþu (scathe, harm, injury)), from Proto-Indo-European *(s)keh₁t- (damage, harm).[2]


  • IPA(key): /skeɪð/, /skeɪθ/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -eɪð, -eɪθ


scathe (countable and uncountable, plural scathes) (archaic or Britain, dialectal)

  1. (countable, uncountable) Damage, harm, hurt, injury.
  2. (countable) Someone who, or something which, causes harm; an injurer.
    Synonym: (very rare) harmer
  3. (countable, Scotland, law, obsolete) An injury or loss for which compensation is sought in a lawsuit; damage; also, expenses incurred by a claimant; costs.
  4. (uncountable) Something to be mourned or regretted.
Alternative forms[edit]
Derived terms[edit]
Related terms[edit]
  • scaddle (Britain, dialectal or obsolete)

Etymology 2[edit]

From Middle English scathen, skathen (to harm; to cause loss; to assail, attack; to make war on; to defeat) [and other forms],[3] from Old Norse skaða (to damage, harm; to hurt, injure), from Proto-Germanic *skaþōną (to damage, harm; to injure) (whence Old English sceaþian, scaþan (to harm, hurt, injure, scathe)), from *skaþô (damage, scathe; one who causes damage, injurer, noun); see further at etymology 1.[4]

Sense 2 (“to harm, injure, or destroy (someone or something) by fire, lightning, or some other heat source”) appears to derive from Paradise Lost by the English poet John Milton (1608–1674), perhaps influenced by scorch:[4] see the 1667 quotation.



scathe (third-person singular simple present scathes, present participle scathing, simple past and past participle scathed) (transitive)

  1. (archaic or Scotland) To harm or injure (someone or something) physically.
    1. (specifically, obsolete) To cause monetary loss to (someone).
      • 1602, [Thomas Heywood], A Pleasant Conceited Comedie, wherein is Shewed How a Man may Chuse a Good Wife from a Bad. [], London: [] [Thomas Creede] for Mathew Lawe, [], →OCLC; reprinted as How a Man may Choose a Good Wife from a Bad (Old English Drama Students Facsimile; 50), [London: s.n.], 1912, →OCLC, signature C, recto:
        VVell goe too vvild oates, ſpend thrift, prodigall, / Ile croſſe thy name quite from my reckoning booke: / For theſe accounts, faith it ſhall skathe thee ſomevvhat, / I vvill not ſay vvhat ſomevvhat it ſhall be.
  2. (by extension, chiefly literary and poetic) To harm, injure, or destroy (someone or something) by fire, lightning, or some other heat source; to blast; to scorch; to wither.
    • 1810, Walter Scott, “Canto III. The Gathering.”, in The Lady of the Lake; a Poem, Edinburgh: [] [James Ballantyne and Co.] for John Ballantyne and Co.; London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, and William Miller, →OCLC, stanza X, page 109:
      The shout was hushed on lake and fell, / The Monk resumed his muttered spell. / Dismal and low its accents came, / The while he scathed the Cross with flame; []
    • 1813, Walter Scott, “Canto Fourth”, in Rokeby; a Poem, Edinburgh: [] [F]or John Ballantyne and Co. []; London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown; by James Ballantyne and Co., [], →OCLC, stanza III, page 156:
      Hoary, yet haughty, frowns the oak, / Its boughs by weight of ages broke; / And towers erect, in sable spire, / The pine-tree scathed by lightning fire; []
    • 1844, George Stephens, transl., The King of Birds; or, The Lay of the Phœnix; an Anglo-Saxon Song of the Tenth or Eleventh Century. [], London: [] J[ohn] B[owyer] Nichols and Son, [], →OCLC, page 9:
      Winter and summer / That wood beeth changeless / Starr'd with rich stores; / Shriveleth never / Leaf under loft / Nor lightning it scatheth, []
      Translated from a 10th- or 11th-century text.
    • 1853, Mary Benn, “[Part the First]”, in The Solitary; or A Lay from the West; with Other Poems, [], London: Joseph Masters, []; Dublin: James McGlashan, [], →OCLC, 1st part, stanza 127, page 49:
      [The sun] with vertical and torrid rays / Scathest the middle zone, and equallest the days.
    • 1855, James Avis Bartley, “The Spirit of Poesy”, in Lays of Ancient Virginia, and Other Poems, Richmond, Va.: J. W. Randolph, →OCLC, page 141:
      'Tis the wild stream of hell! oh it burneth the soul, / It scatheth, and blighteth, and killeth the whole; []
  3. (figurative) To severely hurt (someone's feelings, soul, etc., or something intangible) through acts, words spoken, etc.
Derived terms[edit]


  1. ^ scā̆th(e, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ Compare “scathe, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2022; “scathe, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  3. ^ scāthen, v.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Compare “scathe, v.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2022; “scathe, v.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

Further reading[edit]


Middle English[edit]



  1. Unfortunate, a pity, a shame.
    • 14th c. Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales. General Prologue: 445-6.
      A good wif was ther of biside Bathe, / But she was somdel deef, and that was scathe.
      There was a good woman from near Bath, / but she was somewhat deaf, and that was a pity.