Date: Wed, 24 Jun 1998 20:52:58 -0500
From: Gerald Cohen
Subject: Re: "skedaddle"

In a 6/23/98 message, Patricia Kuhlman wrote:

> An elderly classicist who taught me Homeric Greek asserted that one
>of his professors at Princeton in the early 1930's felt sure that both
>the slang terms "skedaddle" and "skidoo" came from college students who
>knew the Greek verb, skedannumi, which means to scatter or to disperse
>(often used of people as opposed to things). I don't know if anyone
>thinks this connection is possible.

A Greek etymology for "skedaddle" might seem eminently plausible, but
it was seriously questioned already in 1877 (_Atlantic Monthly_, August
issue, pp.233-234). American "skedaddle" is first attested early in the
Civil War, while Scottish and British northern dialectal "skedaddle"
existed already earlier. Here is part of the article:

"...But my English friends lost no time in upsetting my hypothesis [of
the Greek origin of 'skeddadle' in the American Civil War]. 'Why, they
exclaimed, 'we used to live in Lancashire and heard 'skedaddle' every day
of our lives. It means to scatter or drop in a scattering way. If you run
with a basket of potatoes or apples and keep spilling some of them in an
irregular way along the path, you are said to skedaddle them. Or if you
carry a tumbler of milk upstairs and...your gait causes a row of drops of
milk on the stair-case to mark your upward course and awaken the ire of
the housekeeper, you are said to have skedaddled the milk. ..."

The Scottish/ British dialectal use of 'skedaddle' involves scattering
too, of course, but there is a problem here if we try to derive it from
Greek 'skedannumi': it belongs in a rural setting (e.g. skedaddling of
potatoes) and as such does not seem conducive to Greek influence.

A while back I wrestled with the various problems connected with
"skedaddle" and compiled the material I gathered into an article:
"Etymology Of 'Skedaddle' And Related Terms," in _Studies in Slang_, part
I, edited by Gerald Leonard Cohen (=_Forum Anglicum_ vol. l4/1;
Frankfurt a.M.: Peter Lang; 1985, pp. 29-63.

--Gerald Cohen