The word 'Skate

In the Netherlands

Author Wiebe Blauw, 2001
Translation Cheryl Richardson, 2018

The first skates in the 13th century were not yet defined by the word, ‘skate’. In Middle Dutch (1100 – 1500), the word ‘scaetse’ occurs but not in the sense of modern skates. The word 'scaetse' had a different meaning – stilt, wooden leg or stool to support when walking, thick sole under the shoe or trestle and wooden support for carpenters. This Middle Dutch word, ‘scaetse’, is derived from the Middle Latin word 'scacia', that means and later in the same sense is, found in the French 'échasse', the English 'scatches' and the Low German 'skak'.

When the word ‘skate’ arose in the current sense of sliding over ice is not entirely clear. In 1551 there was already a skate-makers guild in Amsterdam. The word ‘scaetse’ was used in a news story about the siege of Haarlem in the month of January of 1573. But in this same story the word 'schoverlingh' was also used to indicate a skate.

The Dictionary of Plantin, 1573, indicates 'schaetse’ yet as stilts, but in the Dictionary of Kilian (Cornelis Kiel) of 1599, the following words for skating appear: 'schaetse ', ‘schoverlinck',  schaverdijne',  schuyverdijne' and 'schrickschoen'. One can conclude from comparing this data that the word ‘skate’ got its current meaning in the last quarter of the 16th century which coincides with the transition from Middle Dutch to New Dutch. New Dutch was then strongly influenced by the dominant Flemish-Brabant (language) culture and it is therefore quite possible that the word schaetse, in the sense of a skate, comes from Flanders.

In Kiliaan's Dictionary there were around 1600 different synonyms for the word skate. The words schaverdijn, schangeling and schrickschoen are Middle Dutch words to indicate skate and were probably used in that sense in the 15th century. With which word a skate was indicated in the 13th and 14th century remains unclear. A text from the 16th century about Mary of Burgundy (1458-1482) shows her skating on 'schrickschoens' and 'schaverdeynen'. A text by Vaernewijck from 1574 also indicates skating on 'schaverdeynen'. ‘Schaverdijne’ and ‘schuyverdijne’ are words that are derived from an activity in which they ‘quickly remove themselves’. ‘Schrickshoe’ is described as footwear with which one can cover a great distance in a short time. The verb 'schricken' means walking with great strides. In this sense one can immediately imagine a connection with the skate. ‘Schoverling’ was still synonymous with ‘skate’ up until the last quarter of the 18th century.

Finally, it has been suggested that the word 'scalootse' or 'scolootse' or 'scoeltse' is the oldest known Middle Dutch word for skating.

In the Middle Dutch text, Tleven, it is written: ‘Ghinc si op scoloetsen met haer even oude maechden opt ijs spelen’ (She went on skates to play with her girlfriends on the ice). According to Groenendaal, these ‘scoloetsen’ would not have been skates, but clog shoes; the word is derived from the French, ‘galoche’. In text from that time in which the word ‘scalootzen’ occurs, Groenendaal finds evidence for his opinion: ‘Die begijnen en sullen gien scalootzen dregen binnen den hove dan binnen haren husen.’ (The beguines shall not wear skates in the courts and their homes.)

Indeed, it’s not probable that ‘skates’ are meant here but rather, elevated shoes to walk through the snow or mud because no one is likely to walk on skates for fun! Although Brugman's book, printed in 1498, shows a picture of Lidwina wearing skates, the accompanying Latin text refers to 'sandalia', which refers to walking footwear. The image is in all likelihood an artistic interpretation. As an image of a skate from 1498 though, the drawing does have value. Also in the dictionary of Kilian from 1599 the word ‘scolootse’ or ‘scalootse’ does not occur in the sense of skating so there is a serious doubt about its significance with reference to skating.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the word skate slowly replaced the previously mentioned words for ‘skate’.

In addition to the Dutch word, ‘skate’, there are several regional names for skates. In the Frisian language area people speak of ‘reed’ (plural, ‘redens’). This origin differs completely from Dutch ‘skating’. Most other dialects use versions of Dutch ‘skating’. In Groningen and Drenthe people speak of ‘scheuvel’, in Overijssel and Gelderland of ‘schaatsens’ and ‘skeuvels’, in the Zaankanters, ‘skaas’, ‘skees’ and ‘schees’ are found. In the Dutch provinces, skates in the 17th century are also called ‘schrenckel-schoen’, ‘Hollandse muil’ and ‘klompen-telder’. According to Meijerman, these words would have been used in the 15th century. They are all indications of footwear and it is not inconceivable that the words were produced by foreign visitors, because they did not know the concept of skating in their own country.

In addition, there are other literary indications of skates such as iron blades and iron sliders.

It seems that the word skate in the current meaning of skating, evolved from an object that was very similar to existing footwear to a word that connotated a specific skating purpose. In the 12th century, wooden footwear was already used in the Netherlands and Flanders in the shape of pattens (wooden shoes to use in mud).
A patten is a wooden footrest with elevations under the heel and the sole. Pattens are later found with arc-shaped metal elevations under the footrest.  They were used to avoid contact with street dirt, wet snow or mud. Archaeological finds show morphological similarity with archaeological skate discoveries. Yet there are no linguistic similarities between patten and skating. This indicates that the Old Dutch skate (scaetse) as footwear served a different purpose than the patten.


The article 'The word skate' is written by Wiebe Blauw, patron (member) of De Poolster.
It has previously appeared in his book 'Van Glis tot Klapschaats' (2001)


Read more

More articles about the development of the skate

Bone skates

The first wooden skates

Parts of the skate (not yet in English).

Material, construction and assembly (not yet in English).

Skating models (not yet in English).

Model development of the skate on coat of arms De Raet (not yet in English).

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