Skedaddle

Amscray.

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.

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