August 13, 2012

I discovered the etymology of "skedaddle."

The Etymological Dictionary doesn't know. It just says:
"to run away," 1861, American Civil War military slang, of unknown origin, perhaps connected to earlier use in northern England dialect with a meaning "to spill." Liberman says it "has no connection with any word of Greek, Irish, or Swedish, and it is not a blend." He calls it instead an "enlargement of dial. scaddle 'scare, frighten.'"
What I discovered is that it's a compression of the phrase "Let's get out of here." I discovered it by saying it quickly and interacting with someone who didn't at first catch what I'd said.

By the way, the phrase "Let's get out of here" is extremely common, and I heard, back in the 70s, that it actually is spoken in every single movie. I don't know if that's true, but it was a folk belief that interested me, and I've seen a lot of movies since then, and it might be true.

ADDED: Here's the OED's effort at etymology:
‘Said to be of Swedish and Danish origin, and to have been in common use for several years throughout the Northwest, in the vicinity of immigrants from those nations’ (Webster, 1864); but there are no forms in Swedish or Danish sufficiently near to be seriously taken into account. There is some slight evidence of the currency of the word in English and Scottish dialect use before it became prominent in America, but it is doubtful how far this is of importance for its origin.


Palladian said...

"Let's get out of here"

I'm unfamiliar with it unless you append the phrase with the word "Scooby".

traditionalguy said...

Sounds related to scatter addled.

Quaestor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Holmes said...

Does eat oats and bears eat oats and little lambs eat ivy; a kid'll eat ivy too, wouldn't you?

Quaestor said...

In the wake of the Union Army's defeat at First Bull Run (a defeat that virtually assured the war would be long and bloody) several deserters were caught and forced to wear a sign that read "I Skedaddled", which was more humane than the firing squad, I suppose.

Damn. I replaced my f'ed up keyboard with a cheap one pending a new wireless one from Newegg, and it is so cramped and oddly laid out that I can hardly type three words without a typo.

Synova said...

Apparently "chunder", Aussie for puking? Is derived from "look out under" when sea-sick transported fellows warned those on lower decks that they were about to be sick.

At least that's what I heard. :)

Quaestor said...

According to one history I read when Sam Huston gave the command of the Alamo to William Travis he told him to "skedaddle" if Santa Anna showed up in force, and not to try an resist a siege. Evidently Huston meant "prudent and timely withdraw" and not "Run away!" like those daffy English ka-niggits.

chickelit said...

I think I rediscovered the English etymology of "poop deck." I think OED is just being coy with their non-definition: link

kimsch said...

Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy, a kid'll eat ivy too, wouldn't you?

Mairseydoats and Doeseydoats and little lambseydivey, a kiddleydedivey too, wouldn't you?

Quaestor said...

Skedaddle is likely one of those totally obscure words whose origin will be a matter of pure speculation forever. It was probably coined by some illiterate or semi-literate frontiersman back in the mid-18th century and passed on orally for decades before being written for the first time.

Now if you want to delve into a more entertaining philological expedition, one that might have a chance of resolution, try "23-skidoo" I haven't any idea what that even means, let alone what its origin is, but every "hepcat" in 1927 spoke that word at least twice a day.

Quaestor said...

I think I rediscovered the English etymology of "poop deck."

Totally off-base with that one, I'm afraid. In the age of sail there was a special place for sailors to go to evacuate, but it was not towards the stern of the ship. The stern is where the ship is conned, and that's been true since time immemorial, and since steering is a job that involves deciding which way to go (i.e. executive business) then the stern has also been "officer country" since time immemorial as well. One thing all officers don't like is sight and smell of all things fecal, so the place to "go" has always been up the forward. This is why in the navy the toilet is called "the head."

Quaestor said...

Here's the origin of poop deck. I'm surprised the Royal Chicken didn't check here first.

chickelit said...

One thing all officers don't like is sight and smell of all things fecal,

Rum, sodomy, and the lash?

Your arguments are sound, but not convincing--unless the Dutch term is a back formation from the English. The Dutch were sailing well before the English.

chickelit said...

I'm surprised the Royal Chicken didn't check here first.

Well as a rule, I check the OED before Wiki.

You didn't read my blog post about the Dutch, did you?

And please don't call me "royal chicken." I detest most the people who do. Unless you care to join them, Q.

Quaestor said...

Poop's origin is not Dutch, it's French -- la poupe, meaning the stern.

Poop as in shit, might refer to where it comes from, i.e. the stern of the human, but I doubt it. English has only a finite number of phonemes, so there are bound to be totally un-related homophones from time to time, poop and poop being just one example.

Stern has a very logical origin. Stern is just means "to steer" in Middle English, the resemblance to the German "Steuern" makes this obvious, though the word got into English via the Danes. The Old Norse for steer was "star", which has also given us starbord. Norse longships had a steering oar rather than a center-line rudder called a "star bort" (steering board) which was as a rule mounted on the right side of the ship. The left of a ship is called the port side because the Norse sailors always tied up to a warf or pier from the left to avoid damaging the star bort which was on the right.

Quaestor said...

Yes, I did read your post about the Dutch. Your claim about the Dutch "sailing well before" the English is bit specious, as is your etymology of "poop deck".

Please visit a reconstructed or preserved ship of that era, such as USS Constitution (Boston), HMS Victory (Portsmith), Hispaniola (Bristol) and ask where the sailors "pooped." The guide will gladly show you, and its at the opposite end of from the "poop deck". Originally there was just an outrigged bench with two or three holes for the buttends of two or three seamen to hang out over the side. The wash and spray from the bow did the office of toilet paper, so the head functioned like a bidet. The problem was the sailor was exposed to weather and no one really wanted to see another man evacuate (it least I hope not). Later small booths were

Actually, none of these ships have a poop deck per se. Early warships like the Mary Rose had as many as four elevated decks astern, the uppermost being called the "turret" reflecting its military function. Trends in marine architecture eliminated poops decks and poop cabins from English ship designs starting in the late 1500s (the so-called race build galleons favored by Drake and Hawkins) because to include a poop deck required the ship's freeboard to be too tall for good winnard handling. By 1700 all the sternward elevated decks were incorporated into one unit called the quarter deck. Likewise the forward elevated decks were also cut down into one unit called the fo'c'sle (forecastle) with the well deck, or waist, in between. By the late 1700's even those decks were eliminated and many warships were "race decked" from stem to stern. There was still a quarter deck and a fo'c'sle, but these terms just referred to regions of the one continuous deck. Today the fo'c'sle is still the front, but the quarter deck is just where the captain is.

As for "Royal Chicken", if soemone chooses to call a blog "El Pollo Real"... what can one expect?

Quaestor said...

I meant to write "later small booths were provided for officers' privacy".

Real "poop" decks

And here.

yashu said...

Let's get out of here.

edutcher said...

When Major Reno couldn't see what had happened to his scouts, he was told, "They've skedaddled".

His chief scout quickly corrected that, noting that they were Indians and were fighting like Indians, from the cover of the timber.

Robert Cook said...

I can see "let's get out of here" in "skedaddle."

First imagine "'sget atta here," and that tronsmogrifies into "skedaddahere" to "skedaddle."

I don't know if that's actually the origin of that word, but it's completely feasible.

bearing said...

I've believed this for a long time. If it's a folk etymology, it's a very persuasive one. I'm amused that the OED doesn't seem to have thought of it.

netmarcos said...

This may be a good assignment for one of my favorite English instructor, Mark Forsyth @

Bob Ellison said...

Interesting discussion! Etymology and linguistics are fascinating subjects, especially because the people who study them professionally often seem so sure of themselves. There's an inverse correlation between the "hardness" of a given science (take math as maximum hardness) and the certainty of its practioners.

Noam Chomsky, for example.

Kansas City said...

Ann is a very interesting writer and, presumably, person. This sounds right to me, although I know nothing about etymology. I did know the term was used heavily in the civil war.

chickelit said...

As for "Royal Chicken", if soemone chooses to call a blog "El Pollo Real"... what can one expect?

Game on, little Will Robinson!

David said...

Damn, Quaestor, where did you learn all that stuff?

Sure is more interesting than the trollspeak we get around here sometimes.

LarryK said...

And in econometrics, "heteroskedasticity" is a technical term describing observations that "skedaddle" away from the mean at different rates i.e. hetero = different, skedasticity = the propensity to skedaddle.

I've been wanting to share that story for years. Who says economists don't know how to party?

Bob Ellison said...

LarryK, great story! I'm going to have to rent a better brain to figure out what that means.

Bob Ellison said...

The Wikipedia article on "heteroskedasticity" to which I linked above mentions says The term means "differing variance" and comes from the Greek "hetero" ('different') and "skedasis" ('dispersion').

Skedasis? Dispersion? Is the Professor's etymology wrong? How many Greeks took part in the American Civil War?

Richard Dolan said...

Odd. I also assumed 'skeddaddle' was a play on 'saddle', since a horse would have been the fastest way to get out of anywhere back when. But who knows (not me).

Bob Ellison said...

Wikipedia: Consequences:
Heteroscedasticity does not cause ordinary least squares coefficient estimates to be biased, although it can cause ordinary least squares estimates of the variance (and, thus, standard errors) of the coefficients to be biased, possibly above or below the true or population variance.

Well, this much was obvious. Don't assume we're idiots, Wikipedia.

Chip Ahoy said...

I am impressed your your etymology. It supersedes all of the authority. All of the definitions should say, skeddaddle means 'let's get outta' (here) shoved together as you have discovered on your own. Awesome.

This is historic.

Bob Ellison said...

Richard Dolan, your "play on saddle" idea makes sense. People tend to think language is like a computer language, rigid in form and syntax. Language ain't like that. There's music in the way people speak.

Calypso Facto said...

I find Bob Ellision's allusion to skedasis more compelling than Ann's hypothesis. Greek was still required reading for most of the Civil War officer corps, and skedasis could easily have slipped in.

Other thoughts from Wiktionary:

Probably an alteration of British dialect scaddle (“to run off in a fright”), from the adjective scaddle (“wild, timid, skittish”), from Middle English scathel, skadylle (“harmful, fierce, wild”), of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Norse skaði (“harm”). Possibly related to the Greek σκέδασις (skedasis, “scattering”), σκεδασμός (skedasmos, “dispersion”). (US) Possibly related to scud or scat.

Calypso Facto said...

Also, etymologists of the day preferred the Greek explanation:

My favorite: To the
Colonel of the Stuyvesant Guards

"Skedaddle boys, skededdle,
That’s Greek you all must know,
Which means take to the saddle,
When e’er you see the foe!"

But also:
The Rebellion Record
The Otago Witness
Dictionary or Americanisms

R.A. Crankbait said...

I always liked the word "absquatulate" when it's time to skedaddle.

According to Norman Schur's "1,000 Most Challenging Words":

(ab SKWAH chuh late) vb.

This amusing, vivid, and expressive word is a bit of jocular, contrived, slang. To absquatulate is to decamp, to scram, to take off in a hell of a hurry like a fugitive heading into the woods; sometimes, to abscond, like a cashier running off with the contents of the till. The term, invented in America in the 1830s and adopted by the English in the 1870s is an example of supposed derivation from factitious mock-Latin, based on a combination of parts of abscond, squat, perambulate and heaven knows what else. A certain J. Lamont, in an old book entitled Seahorse, wrote of a grizzled bull-walrus who “heard us, and lazily awakening, raised his head and prepared to absquatulate.” You may not run across this little item nowadays, but it’s a picturesque word whose revitalization should be encouraged, though it may be used to describe a practice that should be discouraged.

Quaestor said...

Those Civil War officers may or may not have known some Greek, but everybody who was educated knew some Homer, just as they knew some Shakespeare. So reading Homer in translation lead to skedaddle! Skedaddle derives from skedasis -- I like it. I like it very much! Ann needs to link this entire discussion in an email to her favorite philologist.

Scott said...

Synova: I would think "chunder" would more likely come from "watch out under" rather than "look out under", but not being Australian, I don't know if "watch out" is the same or used as "look out"

In college, living in the dorm, we'd like to eat lunch together. "Let's go eat" was deflated into "squeet"

Bob Ellison said...

Palladian, in such stressful situations, Shaggy always used the dimunitive form "Scoob'".

Bob Ellison said...

Say...I just noticed that Scooby's middle name is synonymous with what everyone assumes Shaggy was smoking when off-camera. Perhaps I'm the last American to know that.

Joseph Burns said...

Where are the eyes that looked so mild, hurroo, hurroo
Where are the eyes that looked so mild, hurroo, hurroo
Where are the eyes that looked so mild
When my poor heart you first beguiled
Why did ye scadaddle from me and the child
Oh Johnny, I hardly knew ye.

From Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye, a varient of When Johnny Comes Marching Home, with a strikingly different viewpoint.