What’s the origin of “skosh,” meaning “a little bit”?

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Dear Cecil: My friends and I adore your column and read it every week before the festivities begin at Captain White’s Oyster Bar and Clog Palace. Recently we were discussing a word we’ve all heard but have never seen in print. It’s pronounced “skosh” (long “o”). Whenever I ask somebody to spell it, they always say, “you mean as in `a skosh more room’?” I contend that it’s not a real word but was created solely for the purpose of a jeans commercial (I’m not sure which brand). Enlighten us, Cecil, and we’ll tell you what a Clog Palace is. Julie M., Silver Spring, Maryland

Cecil replies:

One doesn’t tell Cecil anything, dear; one reminds him. Cecil first heard “skosh” — you spelled it correctly — from a printer in Tucson, Arizona, who applied it to any dimension smaller than a centimeter and larger than an angstrom. This fellow had learned his trade in the Navy and had picked up an abundance of off-the-wall weights and measures from his fellow craftsmen. Another example was the “glug,” a liquid measure — you wanted two glugs of something, you turned the bottle upside down until it went “glug, glug.”

Skosh had a slightly more respectable origin: it derived from the Japanese sukoshi, little. United Nations troops first picked it up during the Korean War, presumably while on R and R in Japan, and it’s been part of military slang ever since.

Cecil Adams

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.