Dear Word Detective:  I’m wondering if the slang word “scidattle,” as is “let’s scidattle” or “time to scidattle,” may originate from a shortened version of “let’s get out of here,” which, when said quickly, has a similar sound and meaning.  If my hypothesis is incorrect, can you guys find out where “scidattle” came from?  Boy, I sure hope so. — Tyler Brummet.

Me too.  By the way, “you guys” really doesn’t apply in this case, because it’s just me and a bunch of illiterate cats here, plus two dogs who are of no use at all unless your heart’s desire is to find the nearest dead possum.  We originally let these two freeloaders, Brownie and Pokie, live here on the assumption that they would provide some basic security.  But just last week I watched Pokie attack a tree that hadn’t moved in at least ten years and didn’t seem to be menacing anyone, so we may have to rethink that bargain.

Onward.  While you were reading that paragraph, I was softly repeating “scidattle” over and over to myself, and after awhile it did start to sound a bit like “let’s get out of here,” especially if you say it very quickly with a Brooklyn accent.  But while some English words have been formed by combining other words (“motel” from “motor hotel,” for instance), I can’t think of an instance of an entire phrase (such as “Let’s get out of here”) being slurred into a single word.  It’s just not the way the language works.  Too many people would have to simultaneously adopt that usage for it to make any sense to anyone.

There’s also the fact that the word in question is actually spelled “skedaddle,” and its spelling has been fairly constant since it came into use during the American Civil War.  “Skedaddle” first appeared in written accounts of battles in that war, used to mean “to retreat quickly; to flee” (“As soon as the rebs saw our red breeches … coming through the woods they skedaddled,” 1862).  In military use there were definite overtones of cowardice under fire in “skedaddle,” but as the word quickly percolated into civilian usage, it came to mean simply “to leave quickly” or “to run away.”

There are a number of theories about the origin of “skedaddle,” but no definite answer to the puzzle.  The relatively sudden appearance of “skedaddle” as a fully-formed word, with no known ancestors in English, tends to argue for its importation from another language. There are theories that attempt to trace “skedaddle” to various Swedish or Danish words but fail on lack of evidence.  It is more probable that “skedaddle” is rooted in the Irish word “sgedadol,” meaning “scattered,” or the Scots word “”skiddle,” meaning “to spill or scatter.”  Given the Scots-Irish heritage of many of the states central to the Civil War, these both seem like reasonable bets to me.

16 comments on this post.
  1. Yobgod Ababua:

    “I can’t think of an instance of an entire phrase (such as “Let’s get out of here”) being slurred into a single word.”

    As I was growing up, the canonical example of a Philly accent was usually given as the following exchange:

    “Djeet yet?” “No. Djoo?”

  2. sandi sue:

    Thank you for the info on skedaddle. My Irish grandmother used this expression when chasing my brother and I out of the kitchen when we were in her way. Am working on the geneaology and you were very helpful with an explanation of the derivation. Great web site. Love your sense of humor. Thank you

  3. MarkB:

    Regarding the commenters reference to ‘Djoo?’

    In Annie Hall, Woody Allen tells his friend about an encounter with an acquaintance who is an ‘anti-Semite.’ When asked if he had eaten lunch, the man had answered “No, ‘Jew?” ;-)

  4. GlynA:

    “I can’t think of an instance of an entire phrase (such as “Let’s get out of here”) being slurred into a single word.”

    How about “goodbye” as a contraction of “God be with you”?

  5. admin:

    Good point.

  6. Casey Collins:

    In Uncle Remus XVIII Brer Rabbit loses, through subterfuge, the race (and the $100 purse) with the terrapin: “en sho nuff, Brer Tarrypin tie de pu’s ‘roun his neck and skaddle* off home.” Joel Chandler Harris posits that “It may be interesting to note here that in all probability the word “skedaddle,” about which there was some controversy during the war, came from the Virginia negro’s use of “skaddle,” which is a corruption of “scatter.” The matter, however, is hardly worth referring to.”

  7. Ken:

    I ran across this site and word while web surfing. I am from an old southern family and have a reasonable theory about this word although I don’t recall ever having heard anyone say where it came from. My Scotch-Irish family used this word occasionally and my English/German/Cherokee family much less so. I have always heard it used in a tongue-in-cheek context even among less eloquent speakers. It was also usually used contextually as “gather up your things and skedaddle”. My guess is it is from a Gaelic double-time march cadence such as Clee Deasil “Left Right ” OR Clee Da “Left Two ” with the boot step sound in the pause making the “ddle” sound.

  8. Ken:

    My previous comment should have “pause pause” after the Clee Deasil and Clee Da – I put the pause in brackets and for some reason the type interface left it out. Anyway, whatever the etymology of “Skedaddle”, I believe it was considered slang from the beginning such as “Jiggy” in modern usage.

  9. German:

    it’s exactly the way I figured it out to…Thanks Yobgod!

  10. Cliff:

    According to an 800 page historical book authored in 1866 about the US Civil War, the word skedaddle was invented by a newspaper in 1862. It was used to describe the evacuation of Richmond by the confederate government when the Federal troops under McClellan outnumbered the confederate troops 10 to 1. McClellan might have easily ended the war right then and there but he held back for three months until the advantage was lost.

  11. Maricruz:

    My 12 year old daughter brought this same hypothesis to me last year. I think it has great potential, but I have seen the word scaddle (a British word) may have something to do with the origin also. ???

  12. Neil:

    It could be African or Native American in origin, too. Military slang come from any source that isn’t fast enough to run away.

  13. Norman wood:

    When as kids in Scotland we would say let’s skedaddle meaning let’s get away from here or if we didn’t want someone around we would tell them to skedaddle.

  14. Tom:

    “skedannumi” in Ancient Greek means “scatter, disperse” — it’s easy to imagine it developing from that, with “-addle” added for onomatopoeic effect.

  15. Anonymous:

    Anthony Trollope uses the word “skedaddle” meaning to go away quickly (perhaps with a certain indignity) in The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867).

  16. Christine:

    I’m staying in a very tiny place called Skidadalsvegur in Iceland, by the Greenland Sea, so Old Norse?

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