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From Middle English skulke, skulken, of North Germanic origin; compare Danish skulke (shirk), Swedish skolka (play truant).


  • IPA(key): /skʌlk/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ʌlk


skulk (plural skulks)

A skulk of South American gray foxes.
  1. A group of foxes.[1]
    • 1973, Thomas Pynchon, chapter 1, in Gravity’s Rainbow[2], Penguin, published 2000, pages 59–60:
      A skulk of foxes, a cowardice of curs are tonight’s traffic whispering in the yards and lanes.
    • 2007, Millard Kaufman, chapter 19, in Bowl of Cherries[3], San Francisco: McSweeney’s Books, page 128:
      A skulk of fox padded daintily over a stream-slashed meadow, and a herd of deer like iron ornaments stood stock still in their winter pelage.
  2. (figuratively) A group of people seen as being fox-like (e.g. cunning, dishonest, or having nefarious plans).
    • 1972, R. M. Koster, chapter 43, in The Prince,[4], New York: Morrow, page 320:
      [] a skulk of priests flapped out of the Church of San Geronimo, and women kneeling at novena put away their beads []
    • 1982, Richard Girling, “1160: Chivalry”, in The Forest on the Hill[5], New York: Viking, page 69:
      The law was served by a skulk of informers, who traded their whispers to the royal foresters and woodwards, who gilded their tales for the verderers and regarders, who presented the guilty to the forest Justices.
    • 2000, John Banville, Eclipse[6], New York: Knopf, published 2001, Part 5, p. 190:
      [] they went on, down the road, staggering, and shouldering each other, like a skulk of Jacobean villains.
    • 2004, Micah L. Sifry, Nancy Watzman, chapter 24, in Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?[7], Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, pages 200–201:
      Ten days after the attacks, a skulk of insurance executives met with President Bush and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans to press for the creation of a multibillion-dollar government safety net to limit their exposure to future terrorist incidents.
  3. The act of skulking.
    1. The act of moving in a stealthy or furtive way.
      • 1857, Jacob S. C. Abbott, History of King Philip, Sovereign Chief of the Wampanoags[8], New York: Harper, Chapter , p. 369:
        A part of their company, who had been sent out on a skulk, had not returned, and great anxiety was felt lest they had fallen into an ambush and been captured.
      • 1902, Frederic Remington, chapter 18, in John Ermine of the Yellowstone[9], New York: Macmillan, page 246:
        There was only the danger that his horse might lame himself in the night; but then he could go back in the hills and make a skulk on foot.
      • 1922, Henry Williamson, “The Opening of the Flower”, in Dandelion Days[10], London: W. Collins, page 120:
        Willie knew that the time was propitious for a skulk across Hall, thence into the class-room of Mr. Beach.
      • 2012, Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers[11], New York: Random House, Prologue, p. xix:
        That gave him three or four more hours of darkness in which to plan an escape more sensible than a skulk to the hut next door.
    2. A stealthy or furtive gait or way of moving.
    3. The act of avoiding an obligation or responsibility.
      • 1859, George Little, chapter 3, in The American Cruiser’s Own Book[14], Philadelphia: J.B. Smith, page 36:
        [They took] good care [] to swing their hammocks as far abaft as possible, for the twofold purpose of having a skulk in their watch below at night, and to keep clear of the sprays, which usually pour down the gratings []
      • 1867, James Greenwood, chapter 15, in Humphrey Dyot[15], volume 1, London: Sampson Low, Son, and Marston, page 224:
        “This nonsense won’t do for me, you know; if you want a skulk, you had better pack off back to the house.”
      • 1879, anonymous author, chapter 7, in Convict Life; or, Revelations Concerning Convicts and Convict Prisons[16], London: Wyman & Sons:
        Bidwell is not the only one who feigns paralysis; many poison their flesh by inserting in it copper-wire or worsted; others swallow ground glass, eat poisonous insects, swallow soap and soda, or slightly maim and disable themselves. Anything by which they can secure a skulk, and escape from what Mr. Carlyle has wisely called the “sacredness of work.”
  4. (obsolete, chiefly nautical, military) One who avoids an obligation or responsibility.
    Synonyms: shirk, shirker, skulker.
    • 1832, Frederick Marryat, chapter 16, in Newton Forster; or, The Merchant Service[17], volume 1, London: James Cochrane, page 238:
      “I shall do my duty, Mr. Jackson,” replied Newton, “and fear no consequences.”
      “Indeed! you saw how I settled a skulk just now;—beware of his fate!”
    • 1847, Herman Melville, chapter 4, in Omoo[18], New York: Harper, page 32:
      Toward evening there was something to be done on deck, and the carpenter who belonged to the watch was missing. “Where’s that skulk, Chips?” shouted Jermin down the forecastle scuttle.
    • 1872, Sallie F. Chapin, chapter 7, in Fitz-Hugh St. Clair, the South Carolina Rebel Boy[19], Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger, page 75:
      If you should ever need help, my son, let this be your rule—‘never ask it from the man who deserted his country in her hour of need.’ The soldier’s child will find no mercy from a skulk, depend on it.
    • 1906, Henry E. Shepherd, Life of Robert Edward Lee[20], New York: Neale, Part 3, p. 62:
      An exempt, a skulk, or one upon whom rested the faintest suspicion of evading duty or shrinking in the critical hour of impending battle, was the special object of his wrath.


skulk (third-person singular simple present skulks, present participle skulking, simple past and past participle skulked)

  1. To stay where one cannot be seen, conceal oneself (often in a cowardly way or with the intent of doing harm).
    Synonym: hide
  2. To move in a stealthy or furtive way; to come or go while trying to avoid detection.
    Synonyms: sneak, steal
  3. To avoid an obligation or responsibility.
    Synonym: shirk
    • 1781 (date written), William Cowper, “Table Talk”, in Poems, London: [] J[oseph] Johnson, [], →OCLC, page 17:
      Let discipline employ her wholesome arts,
      Let magistrates alert perform their parts,
      Not skulk or put on a prudential mask,
      As if their duty were a desp’rate task;
    • 1933 January 9, George Orwell [pseudonym; Eric Arthur Blair], chapter XXXIII, in Down and Out in Paris and London, London: Victor Gollancz [], →OCLC:
      They are paid about three shillings a day for ten hours’ work—it is hard work, especially in windy weather, and there is no skulking, for an inspector comes round frequently to see that the men are on their beats.

Usage notes[edit]

Not to be confused with sulk.



  1. ^ Thomas Wright, Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English, London: Henry G. Bohn, 1857, Volume 2, p. 833: “SCULK, [] A company of foxes.”[1]