The word "to scathe" is the synonym of the word "to harm" or "to injure". However, I have never noticed how somebody uses it. Is it OK to occasionally use it instead of "to injure" during speaking and writing?

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    It's more common as the adjective "scathing", in this sense from American Heritage Dictionary: 1. Bitterly denunciatory; harshly critical: "a scathing tract on the uselessness of war" Aug 8 '20 at 5:12
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    The simple answer is it is unused as "scathe".
    – Fattie
    Aug 10 '20 at 9:42
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    It's best to think of "unscathed" and "scathing" as if they were adjectives, not derived from a verb "to scathe". I think of "unscathed" like "disgruntled" - you can't really be "gruntled"
    – Flydog57
    Aug 10 '20 at 20:37
  • “Barely scathed him” is in standard modern English. So its use is not purely adjectival.
    – fomin
    Aug 11 '20 at 4:58
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    @fomin If you can find a reference or two for that, feel free to add as an answer. That's not a phrase I'd ever use, but that doesn't mean it's not common in some varieties of English (there isn't really one "standard modern English", so your experience is no less valid than mine).
    – IMSoP
    Aug 11 '20 at 9:59

The verb itself is almost never used in every day English, but there are two adjectives formed from it which are common:

  • "scathing" means extremely harsh, biting, critical; e.g. "he launched into a scathing attack on his opponent's policies"; "the review was scathing in its criticism"
  • "unscathed" means "unharmed"; e.g. "despite the dramatic accident, he escaped unscathed"

I would classify both of these as a kind of "fossil" - although clearly derived from the present and past participles of "to scathe", they are used only as distinct adjectives.

"Unscathed" has the additional distinction of being an "unpaired word" - although it should logically be the opposite of "scathed", that word is rarely used except in deliberate word play. It would be more natural to say "was almost unscathed" or "was not unscathed" than "was barely scathed" or "was scathed".

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    I'm not sure "fossil" is the right term, but I'm not sure what to use instead.
    – IMSoP
    Aug 8 '20 at 14:16
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    Of possible interest, some other Germanic languages still use their cognates of 'scathe' (In Swedish for example, 'to injure' is 'att skada', which is a pretty obvious cognate of 'to scathe', and their equivalent of 'unscathed' is directly derived from this verb). Aug 8 '20 at 15:19
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    I would say that "scathing hot" is also fairly common, at least in written English Aug 8 '20 at 17:51
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    @SimonLRydinMyerson Not a phrase that I particularly recognise, but it gets plenty of search hits. I wonder if it is (or originated as) a mistaken form of "scalding hot".
    – IMSoP
    Aug 8 '20 at 18:10
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    @IMSoP Yes, I'm sure that's right Aug 8 '20 at 22:43

It has limited used, it isn't used as a general verb, it is mostly seen in participle form, and often in negative sentences.

So don't say "Ronaldo was scathed in the second half" or "I scathed my ankle playing tennis". You can say:

The match turned nasty in the second half, with two red cards, but Ronaldo was unscathed.

I slipped and fell, but was barely scathed.

And there is a related adjective "scathing" which means bitterly critical.

The Prime Minister led a scathing attack on the oppositions policies.

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    While I'd understand "barely scathed", it would stand out to me as an unusual choice. I would mostly think of "unscathed" as in the same category as "unkempt" - an unpaired fossil - so would expect "nearly unscathed" to be more common.
    – IMSoP
    Aug 8 '20 at 9:28
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    @IMSoP barely or nearly unscathed would be the same as barely injured or hurt. This answer about covers most usage.
    – Lambie
    Aug 8 '20 at 14:32
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    @Lambie The example I was commenting on is "barely scathed", not "barely unscathed". As I say, I would understand the meaning of "scathed", but it does not sound natural, and it appears in lists like this one alongside "kempt", "gruntled", etc.
    – IMSoP
    Aug 8 '20 at 14:40
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    'barely scathed' would be very unusual in English, although people would understand what was meant. It would be more usual to say "I slipped and fell, but escaped almost unscathed" to indicate a small amount of damage from the fall.
    – tgdavies
    Aug 9 '20 at 6:30

As the other answers explain, it is not usually used. However it is likely to be understood if used in humor, especially if "unscathed" is spoken by someone first.

What's funny about the scene below is that "scathed" is an unusual word, but understood to be the opposite of "unscathed" which is much more commonly used.

Sometimes it's helpful to see it used in context. In the American TV show The Sopranos a truck driver being robbed was afraid that if he looked unharmed, his boss might think he was part of the crime, and not a victim.

You can read about it in the episode summary in Wikipedia 46 Long:

Christopher and Brendan Filone, who has a meth habit, hijack a shipment of DVD players and are pleased to "scathe" the truck driver, at his request, so that he cannot be suspected.

And I've transcribed the bit of the dialoge from the video The Sopranos - "You wanna be scathed"

Driver: Look I don’t know who in the company gave up the route, but there’s no way I could walk away unscathed without being fired.

Christopher: You want to be scathed?

Driver: Yeah, so it looks like I didn’t give up without a struggle.

Driver is punched and kicked

Christopher: Scathed?

Brendon: Scathed.

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    What makes it funny is that scathed isn't a word. The goon was taken aback by such a polite driver using the fancy word unscathed . Instead of saying "ruff up" he attempted to respectfully reply in kind, using scathed. Funnier, the driver doesn't want to correct him, so goes with it. Even funnier, the goon is now confident enough in this new non-word to use it informally ("scathed?" is short for "have you been scathed enough?"). We can imagine this as the start of scathed taking on a new meaning "visible but superficial injuries". Aug 10 '20 at 15:12
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    @OwenReynolds It's not that scathed isn't a word, it absolutely is a word. It's just a word very rarely used in conversation.
    – barbecue
    Aug 10 '20 at 15:25

The answers with the meaning are great, but to give specific answers: "never" and "no". Despite being in the dictionary, scathe is dead. It's not even in old movies or historical legal documents. It's so dead that it's considered a made-up word playing off of scathing or unscathed. Using it as a serious synonym for injure would be confusing.

Because of unscathed, scathe is vaguely associated with injury. In "I scathed my hand", scathed jumps out -- "you did what? What's a scathe? No wait, I just had lunch. Don't tell me". In a fantasy book we might assume a scathed hand is a magical injury to be explained later.

Also because of unscathed, scathed is a joke word. If you said "2 people were scathed in a car crash", you're making light of their injuries. A listener's thought process might be: "scathed isn't a word -- it's a play on either scathing or unscathed. The opposite of completely unhurt could be killed, or it could be very minor injuries. Or maybe they heard the driver was unscathed and are stupid and think scathed is a word. Or they might have mispronounced unscathed?"

The common phrase scathing insult gives another possible guess. "John is going to scathe you" sounds like made-up teen-age dialogue. He's going to humiliate you, but nothing physical. In fact, Merriam Webster's current online example of recent use has "Monday Night Football debates always seem to scathe a few players". It means mock or insult, as a play on scathing comments.

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    "Isn't considered a word" is taking it too far.
    – hobbs
    Aug 9 '20 at 21:57
  • This is missing the fact that it's more than "vaguely associated" with "unscathed" and "scathing", any native speaker would quickly jump to the conclusion that it's related (probably rightly in this case). I'm not sure your driver and passenger example automatically comes across as humourous either - it sounds like someone hunting for the right word and making an unusual choice. See also "every word is a real word".
    – IMSoP
    Aug 10 '20 at 13:26
  • @hobbs Thanks. I should acknowledge that it is in dictionary and avoid "what's the definition of a word" discussions. Aug 10 '20 at 14:42
  • @IMSoP Thanks. I meant joke in the sense of a wise-crack. I can rework the follow-up. Aug 10 '20 at 14:43
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    Scathe and scathed are not made-up words, they've got centuries of history.
    – barbecue
    Aug 10 '20 at 15:26

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