skyscraper very tall urban building, 1888, in a Chicago context, from SKY (Cf. sky) + agent noun of SCRAPE (Cf. scrape) (v.). Used earlier for "ornament atop a building" (1883), "very tall man" (1857), "high-flying bird" (1840), "light sail at the top of a mast" (1794), and the name of a racehorse (1789). Cf. cognate Fr. gratte-ciel, from gratter "to scrape" + ciel "sky;" Ger. Wolkenkratzer, from Wolke "cloud" + Kratzer "scraper."
cloud-cleaver, an imaginary sail jokingly assumed to be carried by Yankee ships. [W. Clark Russell, "Sailors' Word Book," 1883]

Etymology dictionary. 2014.

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