Bookshelp header image for page World Wide Words logo

Skillygalee

Skillygalee is a thin, watery gruel made of oatmeal.

Its name, often instead as skilligalee, seems to have originally been Irish, though fancifully extended in the early nineteenth century and then abbreviated once more in the 1830s to skilly, a word which was often used as a dismissive term for any insipid beverage.

In 1820 James Hardy Vaux disparaged skillygalee in his Memoirs: “Tolerable flour, of which the cook composed a certain food for breakfast, known among sailors by the name of skilligolee, being in plain English, paste.” (Other writers of that century and the next also compared skillygalee to bill-sticker’s paste, presumably from its consistency rather than taste.) If you were extremely lucky, sugar and butter were added, though common sailors were rarely so fortunate.

Nor were workhouse inmates, for which this was standard fare. Jack London found this out at the start of the twentieth century when he researched his book The People of the Abyss about conditions in London’s East End: “I would be given for supper six ounces of bread and ‘three parts of skilly.’ ‘Three parts’ means three-quarters of a pint, and ‘skilly’ is a fluid concoction of three quarts of oatmeal stirred into three buckets and a half of hot water.”

Share this page
Facebook Twitter StumbleUpon Google+ LinkedIn Email

Search World Wide Words

Support World Wide Words!

Donate via PayPal. Select your currency from the list and click Donate.


Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select your preferred site and click Go!

OTHER WAYS TO HELP

Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 10 Sep. 2005

Advice on copyright

The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-ski2.htm
Last modified: 10 September 2005.