Word of the Month: Skedaddle

David Zapatka

Reader Kim Park read about “smithereens” in a previous column and had this comment and suggestion for this month’s issue. “I loved your WOTM column on smithereens! It threw me back to my youth and reminded me of what my mother used to say when she thought I wasn’t getting ready quickly enough. She would use the word skedaddle. Like smithereens it seems this word isn’t in use like it was so many years ago. What is the etymology and correct use of this word?”

Skedaddle – ske·-dad·-dle | \ski-ˈda-dᵊl verb. 3rd person present: skedaddles; past tense: skedaddled; past participle: skedaddled; present participle: skedaddling. 1. Depart quickly or hurriedly; run away; scram 2. A hurried departure or flight. “Come along Kim. Let’s skedaddle!”

First known use – 1859. Origin and etymology – 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), perhaps of Scandinavian origin, from Old Norse *sköþull; or from Old English *scaþol, *sceaþol; akin to Old Norse skaði (harm); possibly related to the Greek σκέδασις (skédasis, scattering), σκεδασμός (skedasmós, dispersion)

Examples of skedaddle used in a sentence:

Ron’s wife, Jan, wanted to pack up and be ready to skedaddle. — Smith Henderson, Popular Mechanics, “You Could Live Here Alone Forever,” 11 Jan. 2017.

After the car rolled backwards into the street, the two guys inside the car skedaddled. — David J. Neal, Miami Herald, “Kids wanted to steal a Domino’s Pizza guy’s car. But they couldn’t drive it. Miami Herald,” 28 Mar. 2018.

The word skedaddle suddenly appeared fashionable in American newspapers and books around the beginning of the Civil War. Early examples were used when describing accounts of the war. It was likely military slang with the meaning of fleeing the battlefield or retreating hurriedly. Its first appearance in print was in the New York Tribune August, 10 1861. “No sooner did the traitors discover their approach than they skiddaddled.” (Notice the vowel change in this spelling.) It quickly moved into civilian circles with the broader sense of leaving in a hurry. Soon after, it crossed the Atlantic and was printed in the Illustrated London News in 1862 when it was put in the mouth of a young lady character by Anthony Trollope in his novel The Last Chronicle of Barset in 1867: “Mamma, Major Grantly has… skedaddled.”

The Big Bang Theory, season 10, episode 20, sees Sheldon, the nerdy star of the show, in a country western bar with his buddies tracking down his lost U.S. military guidance system notebook. After his flashback memory of having told everyone in the bar top secret information and retrieving his notes, he says to the gang, “We need to skedaddle” as he’s frightened of the consequences of his previous night’s actions.

Have you ever skedaddled from anything? Please submit your experiences, any thoughts on this month’s column or any word you may like to share along with your insights and comments to [email protected]