Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"23 Skidoo" - What's that?

The original name for my blog was the very unimaginative "Library 2.0 Musings". When I noticed that other Thingers had used the term "musings" I figured it was time to come up with something else, although "musings" is so appropriate. My co-workers throughout the state have been very creative in naming their blogs and usernames, so I started to poke around looking for things related to the number 23. "23 skidoo" (or sometimes "23 skiddoo") has a fascinating history and, as intriguing as #6 is, my preferred origin is the last. I plan to have a good time with 23 Things (even though I don't drink).

It isn't certain how '23-skidoo' (or skiddoo) originated. There are numerous competing theories; which is a sure sign of doubt. It seems that '23' originated as a fad term in the USA in the early 20th century.

In 1899, George Ade explained the slang term "twenty-three". This story appeared in an October 1899 edition of The Washington Post:

"By the way, I have come upon a new piece of slang within the past two months and it has puzzled me. I just heard it from a big newsboy who had a 'stand' on a corner. A small boy with several papers under his arm had edged up until he was trespassing on the territory of the other. When the big boy saw the small one he went at him in a threatening manner and said: 'Here! Here! Twenty-three! Twenty-three!'. The small boy scowled and talked under his breath, but he moved away. A few days after that I saw a street beggar approach a well-dressed man, who might have been a bookmaker or horseman, and try for the unusual 'touch'. The man looked at the beggar in cold disgust and said: 'Aw, twenty-three!'. I could see that the beggar didn’t understand it any better than I did. I happened to meet a man who tries to 'keep up' on slang and I asked the meaning of 'Twenty-three!'. He said it was a signal to clear out, run, get away. In his opinion it came from the English race tracks, twenty-three being the limit on the number of horses allowed to start in one race. I don’t know that twenty-three is the limit. But his theory was that 'twenty-three' means that there was no longer any reason for waiting at the post. It was a signal to run, a synonym for the Bowery boy’s 'On your way!'. Another student of slang said the expression originated in New Orleans at the time an attempt was made to rescue a Mexican embezzler who had been arrested there and was to be taken back to his own country. Several of his friends planned to close in upon the police officer prisoner as they were passing in front of a business block which had a wide corridor running through to another block. They were to separate the officer from the prisoner and then, when one of them shouted 'Twenty-three,' the crowd was to scatter in all directions, and the prisoner was to run back through the corridor, on the chance that the officer would be too confused to follow the right man. The plan was tried and it failed, but 'twenty-three' came into local use as meaning 'Get away, quick!' and in time it spread to other cities. I don’t vouch for either of these explanations. But I do know that 'twenty-three' is now a part of the slangy boy’s vocabulary."

'Skiddoo' is another slang term, also originating around the same time and place, meaning much the same as 'skedaddle', i.e. 'leave', 'depart', 'get out of here'.

Here are a few theories as to how '23' and 'skidoo originated' - there are others:

1. In Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, Sidney Carton is No. 23 of a multitude executed by the guillotine. "In the last act of the theatrical adaptation, 'The Only Way,' an old woman sits at the foot of the guillotine, calmly counting heads as they are lopped off. The only recognition or dignity afforded Carton as he meets his fate is the old woman emotionlessly saying 'twenty-three' as he is beheaded. 'Twenty-three' quickly became a popular catchphrase among the theater community in the early twentieth century, often used to mean, 'It’s time to leave while the getting is good."- Who Put the Butter in Butterfly? by David Feldman, Harper & Row.

2. " …in the first few years of the century, memorabilia sold at vacation resorts and fairs were emblazoned with either 23 or Skidoo, and the two soon met." (Dalzell quoting Partridge.)

3. "Tom Lewis originated the fad word '23' in 'Little Johnny Jones' in 1904, and 'Skidoo' was tacked on later. (Dalzell quoting Partridge.)

4. "23 was possibly derived from a telegraphic shorthand code, not unlike trucker CB code, meaning Away with you!'" (Dalzell quoting Partridge.)

5. Thomas Aloysius Dorgan (TAD), a cartoonist and sportswriter, coined the phrase. The expression never appeared in his work but the simple 23 did appear in a comic published on February 16, 1902. (Dalzell.) Skidoo was simply a fanciful variant of skedaddle." (Feldman)

Skedaddle, according to "The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang" by Tony Thorne, Pantheon Books, originated in the American Civil War and "…suggestions have been made as to the word’s derivation; it is probably a form of a dialect version of scatter or scuttle."

6. 23-skidoo came from an expression that construction workers used while building the Flatiron Building on 23rd Street in N.Y.C. 23rd Street is one of the wider streets in New York that is like an uninterrupted wind-tunnel between the East and Hudson Rivers. Frequently, when one is walking north or south on the avenues and comes to such an intersection, they can experience a sudden blast of wind as soon as the pass the wall of a corner building. Apparently, when the workers sat on the sidewalk to eat their lunches, they would watch women's skirts blow up from the sudden gusts.

7. The phrase originated in the Panimint Mountains in Death Valley in the early 1900s. The mining town of Skidoo had 23 saloons and if you were going to go get drunk you would try to get a drink at each of the saloons. This started the phrase of going 23 skidoo if you were going to have a good time.

Courtesy of


Today I added a DearReader link to my blog. I originally signed up for DearReader's Nonfiction Book Club so I could verify that e-mails were being sent daily, and to check links back to our catalog. This is a service we provide to our customers, available from the Reader's Corner in AquaBrowser and HIP, and I like to be sure it's working properly.

But I find myself looking forward to reading Suzanne's musings every day. She writes about very mundane things, but makes them sound so interesting and applicable to events in my own life, that I can't wait to find out what she is going to write next. Suzanne is on vacation in the Smoky Mountains for 2 weeks and has other people writing her column while she is gone. Today's was written by Deborah Raney, fiction author of "In the still of the night", "A vow to cherish", "Beneath a southern sky", and "Over the waters". Her story is so beautiful and tender, I'd like to share it here.
Dear Reader,

A couple very dear to me split up a few weeks ago. These days, it's not really news when long-married people go their separate ways. But this split was too close to home. This was my husband's grandparents, who've been part of my life for three decades--since the day I walked into their farmhouse as a fresh-faced teenager, only to have Grandpa razz me about being just one of a string of
girlfriends Ken had brought out to meet them.

It wasn't long before I learned to read that ornery twinkle in Grandpa's eye. Soon I could dish his tongue-in-cheek teasing right back, even as Grandma dished up her famous fried chicken and made-from-scratch chocolate cake.

Throughout the lean years of our marriage Grandma and Grandpa never sent us away without fresh-dug potatoes, jars of home-canned tomatoes or homemade cinnamon rolls Grandma kept in the deep freeze for anyone who might drop by.

Our photo albums are crowded with images of Grandma and Grandpa cradling our babies. They were never too busy for great-grandchildren's birthday parties or ballgames.

Through trials and tragedies, Ken's grandparents modeled undying commitment. So it hit hard when they split up.

Oh, it's not that the split was their choice. It was a heart-wrenching decision after Grandpa began to wander away from home, and Grandma's failing eyesight and four-foot-eleven stature kept her from going after him. In recent months, we would come to visit and the vacant stare, the missing twinkle in his eyes, told the truth. Still, his stock greeting was, "Come on in! I don't know who you are, but we sure do love you."

Then one day Grandma couldn't get Grandpa up out of his chair, and the difficult decision was made to move him to a nursing home. Ken and I took Grandma to visit yesterday. Grandpa is failing day by day. He lives in his own impenetrable world, wolfing down nursing home fare, ignoring his tablemates.

But Grandma's voice brought a ghost of that famous twinkle to his eyes. She touched his arm and he turned to wrap her in a hug and plant a kiss square on her lips. He must have kissed her half a dozen times during our hour-long visit. Sitting knee-to-knee in the dayroom--Grandma on a vinyl loveseat, Grandpa in his wheelchair--he looked her in the eye. "Are you married?"

Grandma's self-conscious chuckle made her sound like a schoolgirl. "I 'thought' I was."

"Well, you sure are good-looking," Grandpa declared.

Grandma threw us a sidewise wink before turning back to Grandpa. "I'm married to 'you,'" she said.

Grandpa pumped a frail fist in the air. "Thank you, Lord!"

Ever notice how much it hurts to laugh and cry at the same time.

Grandpa will be 98 at Thanksgiving and on New Year's Day Grandma turns 97. Grandma sleeps alone now in their double bed layered with quilts. But mere miles could never truly split them up. And if Grandpa makes it through the winter, there will be a big celebration come May 26. Ken's mom will drive out to the farm to pick up Grandma and bring her to the nursing home. Somebody will order a cake and we'll have to tell the bakery at least twice, "No, that's not a typo. The cake should read:
"Happy 79th anniversary, Grandma and Grandpa. We love you."

Deborah Raney
Not only does the column start my day out right with a good story, but I have discovered some great books to read. Every day for a week, excerpts from the same book are included in the e-mail. In 5 minutes a day for 5 days, I can read the first several chapters of a book I might not have picked off the shelf. Give it a try at I hope you get as much pleasure out of them as I do.