Twenty-three skiddoo

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sat Feb 21 03:51:13 UTC 2004

>The examples I quoted imply that "skiddoo" means the same thing as "23".
>Did "23" already commonly have the meaning of "go away" in 1906?

"Twenty-three" and "skidoo" [I ignore spelling variation] were synonymous
in 1906, as Michael Quinion says.

"Skidoo" MAY be derived from "scat"/"scoot"/"skedaddle" + "shoo", I suppose.

Before 1906 I cannot find any use of either in this sense (of course my
database is incomplete).

There are "23" and "skidoo" and "23 skidoo" ... but there is apparently no
"skidoo 23", nor "24 skidoo", nor "23 skedaddle", nor "23 scat", nor "86
skidoo", nor ....

My tentative inference is that "23 skidoo" as a fixed combination was the
original form, with synonymous "23" and "skidoo" both abbreviated versions.
The virtually simultaneous appearance of all three is compatible with this
hypothesis. [One or both of "23" and "skidoo" could have existed earlier in
this or some related sense, but it looks as though the 1906-and-later usage
was derived from the fixed combination.]

This does not seem very consistent with the "23" being from "Tale of Two
Cities" (I find this [true? false?] folk-etymology as early as May 1906!).

My casual speculation is that "23 skidoo" originated in some popular slogan
or song or play. I can imagine a magician in a comedy for example saying
the nonsense "23 skidoo" as a charm to make things disappear, or to make
his flying carpet fly, or whatever. [Around 1900, there was the play
"Hindoo Hoodoo", for example, in which an Indian mesmerist projected men's
souls here and there: if I had a script available, I'd take a look. Maybe
the ending "-doo" was overused (example wild notion only).]

-- Doug Wilson

More information about the Ads-l mailing list