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Re: 1920's slang

Posted by Bruce Kahl on March 27, 2000

In Reply to: 1920's slang posted by sarah spring on March 27, 2000

: im trying to figure out what "23 skidoo" means, and who "izzy and moe" are. anything would help at this point. thanks!

I lifted the following word for word from the Word Detective:

The puzzle of "twenty-three skiddoo," which can mean "let's go," "get lost," "whoopee!," or a variety of other things, is one of the classic word-origin questions, and nearly every authority has at least one theory.

The "skiddoo" part is fairly easy to trace, and is almost certainly a variant of the slang word "skedaddle," meaning "to depart in haste." The "twenty-three," however, is a bit more obscure. One theory, which is often reported as fact, but isn't, traces the phrase to the corner of Twenty-third Street and Broadway in New York City. This is the location of the famous Flatiron Building, built in 1902 and known for the fierce updrafts its triangular shape (resembling an old-style flatiron) causes on the neighboring sidewalks. It is said that young men of the period would gather at this corner in hopes of seeing a lady's dress blown up by the wind, a practice which the local police would discourage with the gruff order "Twenty-three skiddoo!" Early films of the "dress blowing" phenomenon do, in fact, exist. You can even download one from the Library of Congress site on the Web. But "Twenty-three Skiddoo" was a popular phrase among young people as early as the 1890's, long before the Flatiron Building, which caused the wind storms in the first place, was even built.

The late etymologist Eric Partridge reported that one of his correspondents felt that the phrase might have had its roots in old telegraphers' code, where common phrases were replaced by numbers. In this code, "30" sent in Morse code meant "end of transmission" (a notation still used by journalists to signal the end of a story), "73" meant "best regards" (still very much in use by amateur radio operators), and "23" meant "away with you!" This seems a far more likely explanation of the phrase.