Notably, and as expected, the Supreme Court circular used the correct term “SKELETON STAFF” instead of “SKELETAL STAFF” that was used in the memos/orders of other departments.
As a noun, “SKELETON” refers to the bone structure of a person or an animal. However, when used as an adjective, “SKELETON” describes something that is reduced to a basic structure or when used to describe workers, staff, or crew, it means having the smallest possible number of people who can get a job done.
On the other hand, the adjective “SKELETAL” also relates to the structure of bones that supports the body of a person or it may refer to something that exists in its most basic form. For example, one may say skeletal frame, skeletal account, skeletal structure, skeletal growth, etc. However, when used to refer to an individual or a group of people, it means they have been reduced to their basic form, i.e., very thin, skinny, cadaverous, starved, famished, haggard, or emaciated either due to hunger or some illness. If what is meant is a reduction in the number of workers, then the most appropriate adjective is “skeleton.”
Re: SKELETON WORKFORCE vs. SKELETAL WORKFORCE (Added March 29, 2020)
As previously explained, the correct adjective when referring to a small number of workers, staff, personnel, crew, employees, or workforce needed by a company or organization to operate is “skeleton,” not “skeletal.” Many have indeed used and continue to use “skeletal workforce” when what they actually mean is a “skeleton workforce.” Since language is dynamic and evolving, top linguists and grammarians might accept “skeletal workforce” as correct in the future. At the moment, however, that is still highly unlikely because the term “skeletal workforce” is only in common use in the Philippines.
Below are links to some examples of how “SKELETON WORKFORCE” has been correctly used by presidents of top Philippine universities, news agencies, etc. You will also notice that recently, many Philippine news writers have used “SKELETON WORKFORCE” even if the government issuance, government official, or resource person they are reporting about use “skeletal workforce.”