Etymology of the word `book' meaning `go'.
January 10, 2008 2:49 AM   Subscribe

Another etymology question : what's the origin of the term `book' meaning `to go'. For example `Let's book on outta here", or "I'm gonna book down to the 7-11".

I don't hear this phrase a lot, but I do rather like it, and I have often wondered where it originated. Google fails me because of how common the word book is.
posted by tomble to Writing & Language (35 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The other issue that complicates finding info on this usage is that the more common meaning of book when used as a verb is "reserve", as in to book a flight or book a room in a hotel.

The best I could find was this usenet discussion on alt.usage.english. In it, someone quoted the following entry in the Bloomsbury Dictionary of Contemporary Slang:

book vb American

to depart, leave. A fashionable term of the 1990s in black street usage
and also heard among white adolescents. A variety of euphemisms (like
its contemporaries bail, bill, jam and jet) for 'run away' are essential
to the argot of gang members and their playground imitators. The origin
of this usage is not certain; it may derive from an earlier phrase 'book
it', meaning that someone has to return home quickly in order to record
a transaction.

Someone else posted a link to this list of motion related words. The entry for book mentions:

Book as a verb of human motion is (as far as I know) a recent development in English. I say this based upon the seeming unfamiliarity my professor and other individuals of his generation with it. It should be noted that I've never encountered a person of my age group or younger who was unacquainted with book's use as a verb indicative of speedy motion.
posted by burnmp3s at 3:56 AM on January 10, 2008

It's probably a corruption from the act making a reservation. Booking a place at a restaurant is similar to going to a restaurant & if you book down to to the 7-11, you're implying that you're making a reservation to go down to the 7-11

Note that notes your usage as slang, and has a number of "book" meanings which could have contributed to your meaning.

Slang : b. to leave; depart: I'm bored with this party, let's book.

34. book out, to sign out, as at a job.

25. to enter an official charge against (an arrested suspect) on a police register.

38. close the books, to balance accounts at the end of an accounting period; settle accounts.

36. bring to book, to call to account; bring to justice:
posted by seanyboy at 4:00 AM on January 10, 2008

I once heard that it was from the "Book 'em, Danno" at the end of Hawaii Five-O episodes, but I don't know what my informant was basing that on.
posted by No-sword at 4:01 AM on January 10, 2008

Also, From here
"Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume 1, A-G" by J.E. Lighter, Random House, New York, 1994.) Random House says "book it" is influenced by "boogie."
posted by seanyboy at 4:06 AM on January 10, 2008

"Booking it" has been slang for running away (from trouble or a tight situation) for as long as I remember. I am talking late '60s Boston...
posted by Gungho at 4:11 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

A common phrase while I was growing up in the early 80s in south eastern Mass was "book it" i.e. "hurry up". During school gym class, etc. when we'd have races we'd cheer for people by shouting it at them. For example: "Come on Sully, book it!"

Another common use of the phrase was in place of "run away". For example, while committing some type of youthful mischief: "Holy crap that dude just saw us! Book it!"

Not particularly helpful etymology-wise but it was in common kid parlance in the early 80s in my area and might be a interesting data point.
posted by lazywhinerkid at 4:14 AM on January 10, 2008

Whoa, Gungho: Maybe it's a Mass thing!
posted by lazywhinerkid at 4:14 AM on January 10, 2008

Well, from a military standpoint, soldiers used to 'book out', a verb to mean signing in the record books (to tell who went out of/went into camp). You'd have to 'book out' before you hit the town on your night out, for instance.

I'm not sure if this is common usage, or if this is even its real origin, but that's what I have.
posted by kureshii at 4:19 AM on January 10, 2008

I grew up in Lexington MA in the 80s (born 78) and I concur with lazywhinerkid 100%.
posted by creasy boy at 4:19 AM on January 10, 2008

I grew up in rural Alabama in the 70's and 80's and I can assure you that "bookin' it" is not a Mass thing.

I would have guessed that it was associated with boogie as well however heard the term "book out" as in "clock out" and that seems more likely to me.

Last, booking it is not the proper terminology it's "bookin' it" (Google search: Booking it 7,750,000 hits, Bookin' it 20,100,000 hits)
posted by Pollomacho at 4:36 AM on January 10, 2008

Central Indiana reporting; we used Let's book as early as the 80s, too, however linguistic datapoint, we only used it in that form. Places where you might have used bookin' it, we used bale(bail). I can't give you a definitive spelling, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were bale, since we're a farm state, and baling hay tends to involve a metric buttload of throwing stuff as fast and hard as you can.
posted by headspace at 5:10 AM on January 10, 2008

Thirding (or something) the not-a-Mass thing, it was in wide use in California in the 60s.
posted by merelyglib at 5:17 AM on January 10, 2008

It's known in Oklahoma, too. For me, it always has the connotation of haste- usually in leaving a tricky situation, as lazywhinerkid proposed. I don't think I've ever heard it used in a case of "bookin' it down to 7-11," for instance, though I would understand it. It was always a case in which my best friend Kenny and I were about to get caught by his big sister doing something to her stuff, and one of us would turn to the other and say, "Book it!"
posted by Shohn at 5:33 AM on January 10, 2008

Fourthing "Book it!" as "Get out of here!", in Missouri. Certainly '86, probably earlier.
posted by notsnot at 5:33 AM on January 10, 2008

Detroit, 1970s. "Book" was in common usage by many people I knew. Just to confirm it's certainly been popular since before the 1990s.
posted by The Deej at 5:35 AM on January 10, 2008

I remember hearing this term in Northern California for the first time sometime around 1980. I don't know where it came from, it just sort of appeared out of nowhere.
posted by Malor at 5:36 AM on January 10, 2008

Oh, there were three main usages. "Let's book!" meant "run away!". "He's booking!" meant he was running very fast. And "He can really book!" meant he was capable of doing so.
posted by Malor at 5:39 AM on January 10, 2008

Bouncing around my head is this lyric from Chuck Berry's "Carol" --

Come into my car so we can cruise on out

But for some reason the way I remember it is --

Come into my car so we can book on out

Not sure why.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:47 AM on January 10, 2008

Grew up in Massachusetts in the 70's & 80's and saying "bookin' it" for running fast was very common. Never heard it after I moved away from New England.
posted by Koko at 6:51 AM on January 10, 2008

seanyboy has it, and (knowing it won't do any good) I strongly emphasize that wild-ass guesses are totally useless in answering these questions. Lexicographers spend years learning how to do this, then spend their entire professional lives doing it; if you want to know where a word comes from, look in a book—in this case HDAS. If Lightner et al. suggest it's related to boogie, that's the best guess you're going to get. On the question of age, the first citation in HDAS is from 1974: "Time to book this joint." Of course, it had doubtless been used for at least a few years before that, and antedates will probably turn up.
posted by languagehat at 7:03 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

This was common in Northeastern Ohio in the mid to late '70's as well.
posted by xena at 7:16 AM on January 10, 2008

I grew up in Lexington MA in the 80s (born 78) and I concur with lazywhinerkid 100%.

Boxboro MA in the 70's and this seems totally right on to me. Hi Koko!
posted by jessamyn at 7:32 AM on January 10, 2008

Acton MA in the 80s. We said it all the time. Hi Koko and Jessamyn!
posted by Camofrog at 7:56 AM on January 10, 2008

Midwest in the 70s.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:01 AM on January 10, 2008

posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:02 AM on January 10, 2008

"Bookin' it" was also common in rural east TN in the late 70's and early 80's.
posted by kimdog at 8:48 AM on January 10, 2008

headspace writes "we used bale(bail). I can't give you a definitive spelling, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were bale, since we're a farm state, and baling hay tends to involve a metric buttload of throwing stuff as fast and hard as you can."

"Bail" comes from "bail out" (as in, "bail out of a plummeting airplane"). "Let's bail" = "Let's get out of here".
posted by Bugbread at 8:57 AM on January 10, 2008

Oh, and "book" was used in Texas from at least the 80's as well. I don't see any particular geographic distribution here. It must have started somewhere, but considering the average MeFite age, it had probably become a nationwide word before most of us learned to speak.
posted by Bugbread at 8:59 AM on January 10, 2008

Brookline, MA, late 70s into the mid-80s, and we said "let's book." Never heard "bookin' it," to my recollection. (Hi, other Boston/MA/New England Mefites!)
posted by rtha at 9:20 AM on January 10, 2008

My intial `wild ass guess' is that it's derived from Hawaii Five-O, as others have suggested. "Alright, enough discussion, let's write it down in a book. Dano, you do the writing." can easily lead to "Alright, enough standing around, let's get going now (let's book it.)" They're both a resolution for immediate action.
posted by proj08 at 9:54 AM on January 10, 2008

Wash DC area in early '90s, Portland ME and parts of MA in the late 80s. College friends from eastern MA said both "let's book" and "book it" more frequently than any other geographical group.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:24 AM on January 10, 2008

I remember the term when I was a kid in the 70s and I always thought it was onomatopoeically related to the sound a jalopy or car with loud exhaust makes when it leaves rapidly "BOOKBOOKBOOKBOOKBOOKBOOK". In the 70s there were a lot of cars like that. :)
posted by zorro astor at 1:04 PM on January 10, 2008

Another datapoint: We said this on Long Island, NY, 80s.
posted by exlotuseater at 8:52 PM on January 10, 2008

Michigan, 1970's. But usage did not imply speed. "Let's book" was simply, let's leave (or, "let's make like a tree, and leaf"). Never heard "bookin' it".
posted by Goofyy at 10:43 PM on January 10, 2008

Oddly, I remember the first time I heard this usage. Early 1979, Seattle, junior high. I was at Jane Addams junior high in the Lake City area (north east Seattle), and a friend of mine moved to Ballard (north west Seattle, the old Scandinavian neighborhood) and started school over there. Later I was talking to her and she said she had to "book over to" somewhere after school the next day. I had never heard that usage because and asked her about it, and she said all the Ballard kids were saying it.

Pretty soon it spread over to our side of town and was pretty common. I've always kind of wondered where it came from. I doubted even then that a bunch of Ballard kids made it up.
posted by litlnemo at 12:43 AM on January 12, 2008

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