Sunday, February 19, 2006

Skedaddle: Some common vernacular associated with legs, feet and boots

Skedaddle is one of those words you either love or hate. I love it, and it means to move or run away quickly. We skedaddle from something frightening. The word’s origin remains unknown but it is thought to date from 1861 and was used as US military slang during the Civil War. A jocular form of skedaddle was skidoo and during the period 1900 - 1907, twenty three skidoo became hip talk for all American youths. Twenty three skidoo is thought to be the first catch-phrase to find currency over the whole of the United States and the beginning of hip. talk.

Hip is a slang term sometimes defined as fashionably current and in the know. Hip, like cool, does not refer to one specific quality. What is considered hip is continuously changing. The term first appears in early 20th century African American Vernacular English, derived from the earlier form hep. In the Jazz Era of the 1930s and 1940s it had become a common slang word. It first appeared a Tad Dorgan cartoon in 1902, then later in 1904 a novel by George Vere Hobart entitled Jim Hickey, A Story of the One-Night Stands. The term became better known after Jack Kerouac described his his mid-century contemporaries as "the new American generation known as the 'Hip' (the Knowing).

Another phrase which slipped into common vernacular from just after the Civil War was “down to brass tacks.” During the American Civil War unscrupulous boot makers supplied the armed services with inferior boots made from cardboard. After the war, the quartermasters held surplus supply and sent pairs to the western front. When these were issued to the officers they came with a metal file and the order “Down to brass tacks” was given. The files were used to scrape away the brass tacks which stuck through the heels of the boots making them impossible to wear.

Pussyfoot means a delicate, soft step and comes from the imagery of a cat's careful tread. To pussyfoot is to proceed with caution, subtlety, and delicacy. The term is American in origin and dates to at least 1893. In England pussyfoot was a derisive term meaning an abstainer or someone who advocated prohibition. A pussyfooter was synonymous with a teetotaler and came into common use when William E. "Pussyfoot" Johnson, an American prohibitionist traveled to London in 1916 to spread the good word.

In the 17th century a bootleg described the upper part of thigh high boots which were popular at the time. It became common practice for English smugglers to hide bottles of untaxed booze under their boot flaps. Boot leggers became a term later affixed to anyone avoiding taxes. In North America frontiersmen used to smuggle bottles of alcohol to Native Americans by hiding the contraband in the legs of their boots. During the Prohibition era, most "bootleggers" were those who sold bootleg liquor. By the late 20th century, the term had broadened to apply to those who sell counterfeit merchandise, pirated movies and software, and bootleg recordings. The term is also used to describe musicians who create bastard pop songs ("bootlegs" or "mash-ups") by combining tracks (which are often illegally sampled) from different artists to create a new piece of music.

Reviewed 24/11/2016

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