Answer Man: When did 'book' come to mean leave?

News-DemocratMay 26, 2014 

Q. How did the common word "book" ever come to mean "leave" or "move quickly," as in "Let's book!" and "He was really bookin'it!"? -- H.B., of Cahokia

A. It may seem like a bit of a polyester stretch, but one of my favorite sources -- word-detective.com -- argues that it may be a surviving remnant from the disco era.

Remember those boogie nights of the '70s, when we were rockin' the boat with the Hues Corporation and engaging in kung fu fightin' with Carl Douglas in our leisure suits? Well, Evan Morris says the term boogie-woogie, originally a style of blues music dating to the '20s, slowly changed into the slang word you find puzzling a century later.

According to Morris, boogie-woogie initially was shortened to boogie. (If you want to go way back, some historians have traced the word to the Hausa word "boog" and the Mandingo word "booga," both meaning "to beat (a drum)," the West African word "bogi," meaning "to dance," and the Bantu phrase "mbuki mvuki," meaning "to take off in flight and dance wildly."

That's what "boogie" turned into. First, it became synonymous with dancing energetically. Then, it came to mean "get going" -- and do it quickly -- as in "let's boogie." Eventually, Morris argues, people got into such a hurry that they shortened "boogie" to "book" and "bookin'," hardening the "g" sound on the end of "boog." By the way, the same boogie-book association is noted in the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang Volume 1.

Others, however, say you shouldn't close the books on the explanation so quickly. Some say it may be an extension of booking out of (leaving) a hotel or booking passage (leaving rapidly) on a boat, bus or plane.

You also can find many vets swearing it has a military origin from the custom of "booking out" of camp to enjoy a night in town.

"In my experience," wrote one, "it was universal among U.S. servicemen in Europe in the late 1960s. After about 20 minutes in a bar, someone would yell 'Book!' and all the cool people would proceed to the next bar."

And, here's one for the books: At least one sailing enthusiast swears it comes from the Scandinavian term "psalmbooking," meaning to run with the jib sail to windward. I leave it for you to pick the most logical explanation.

However, there seems little argument over the origins of a couple of popular synonyms. About 500 years ago, "bolt" popped up in Old English as a short arrow fired from a crossbow. Over the centuries, it came to describe a flash of lightning (thunderbolt) and even a piece of hardware that held things together. Now like Jamaican speedster Usain Bolt, it, too, has become a verb that means to leave rapidly.

"Hightail," of course, is simply some nature lover's observant description of animals. When in peril, many raise their tails as they flee, so we as humans often hightail it, too, when we're in danger.

Wordsmiths, however, scratch their heads over "skedaddle." Although coined during the Civil War, the word is of unknown origin. The best guess is that it may have Irish roots from "sgedadol," meaning "scattered," or an alteration of "scaddle," a British word meaning "to run off in a fright."

Q. I really enjoy a couple of shows on KMOV-TV Channel 4 on Saturday mornings -- "Lucky Dog" and "Dr. Chris Pet Vet." I'd like to write the station and whoever else is responsible for these shows to help keep them on the air. What do you suggest? -- T.G., of Belleville

A. You've discovered a brand-new Saturday morning programming bloc that CBS announced last summer.

Instead of a cartoon wasteland for kids 3-6, CBS commissioned Litton Entertainment to develop six shows for teens 13-16 (and, apparently in your case, way beyond). It's branded "The CBS Dream Team, It's Epic!" and features your two animal shows along with "Recipe Rehab," "Jamie Oliver's 15-Minute Meals," "All In with Laila Ali (Muhammad Ali's daughter and retired boxer)" and "Game Changers with Kevin Frazier."

To thank them (and cover all your bases), you can write Programming at KMOV-TV, One Memorial Drive, St. Louis, MO 63102 (or kmov-programs@kmov.com); Litton Entertainment, 884 Allbritton Blvd., Suite 200, Mount Pleasant, S.C. 29464 (or www.litton.tv); and CBS Programming, 51 W. 52nd St., New York, N.Y. 10019-6188 (or www.cbs.com/feedback).

Today's trivia

What part did Laura Foster play in the early history of folk music? The date: May 25, 1866.

Answer to Sunday's trivia: When a car hit his beloved dog in the early '70s, singer-songwriter Paul Simon was suddenly struck by the fragility of life -- one second here, the next second gone. What if something like that happened to his wife (his first, Peggy Harper, at the time)? To help him through the grieving process, he wanted to write a song, but what words could he use to convey his emotions? In a 1972 Rolling Stone interview, he said he found the answer on a Chinese restaurant menu: "There was a dish called 'Mother and Child Reunion.' It's chicken and eggs. And I said, 'Oh, I love that title. I gotta use that one.'"

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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