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This verb is used in expressions such as “I’ll see you later – gotta book now”.

Dictionary.com has:

  1. Slang. b. to leave; depart: I’m bored with this party, let’s book.¹

Anybody know the origin of this slang term?

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I think this was a high school word for me ... which would place it in the late 1970's. –  MετάEd Jan 9 '12 at 23:40
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Here is another perspective on the word. www-personal.umich.edu/~jlawler/words/book.htm –  MετάEd Jan 9 '12 at 23:44
    
Interesting.. In Dutch we use a literal translation of that verb too (also more or less slang). Never known it existed in English as well. –  poepje Jun 14 '12 at 20:55
    
What is the Dutch word? –  MετάEd Jun 14 '12 at 20:56
    
'boeken' (infinitive). Usually used in a context such as let's book which would in Dutch be we boeken 'm or laten we 'm boeken; we use it pretty much only when we mean " let's get out of here quickly" –  poepje Jun 14 '12 at 21:00

12 Answers 12

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Recent internet

This use of book is definitely earlier than the 1990s. Two posters on Ask MetaFilter date it to the 1960s:

  • “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 …
  • Thirding (or something) the not-a-Mass thing, it was in wide use in California in the 60s.

Some 10 remember it from the 1970s, and around 15 from 1980s.

From The Phrase Finder:

A couple of references associate “book it” meaning to move fast with “book it” meaning to study or “hit the books”. (Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner by Geneva Smitherman, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1994; and 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”. Both sources say the phrase dates back to the 1970s. That’s when I first heard it.

Dictionaries

The first citation in the Historical Dictionary of American Slang is from 1974:

Time to book this joint.

Another edition of the same book from 2002 or earlier links it to boogie:

book …
3. [infl. by BOOG, BOOGIE, v.] to leave; to go fast; move along. – also constr. with “it”, “up”.

The Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang and Unconventional Langauge (2009) by Tom Dalzell and Eric Partridge agrees on US 1974:

2 to depart, usually hurriedly US, 1974

  • Belly sprang to her feet. “We gotta book – fast.” – Seth Morgan, Homeboy, p. 66, 1990
  • MARSELLUS: Whatch got? ENGLISH DAVE: He booked. — Pulp Fiction, 1994
  • We gotta book it if we’re going to make it to P.E. — Clueless, 1995
  • We gotta book. We’re catching a bus to Chi-town. — Chasing Amy, 1997

All the citations and reminiscences are from the US and mostly amongst schoolchildren. I’ve never heard it in the UK, where scarper might be used instead.

alt.usage.english anecdotes

Over in Usenet’s alt.usage.english, there’s a 205 message discussion from 2002 on this (and in 1999). Highlights include a poster (rzed) hearing it in 1968:

I heard this usage no later than 1968 (from a co-worker in a job in left [sic] in that year), in the US Midwest. I don’t know the origin, although I’d think it is at least related to the use of boogie to mean “go”. It may be more common to say something like “let’s book it” than “let’s book”.

Another poster from the mid-west also remembers it from the late 1960s:

I remember hearing the term in the late 1960s. I recall it as a slang term for “to leave”, as in: “Let’s book”. I don’t recall any connotation of running away, but there was a certain amount of alacrity associated with it.

And:

We talked about this before (I looked it up – it was in 1999), and most of the people who knew the usage came from the Midwest. I know someone from Binghamton who says book meaning “move fast”, and when we discussed it in 1999, someone from Buffalo or Rochester also said they used it.

Another:

In my experience, it was universal among U.S. servicemen in Europe in the late 1960s. It meant “to leave”. Period. After about 20 minutes in a bar, someone would yell “Book!” and all the cool people would proceed to the next bar.

And from the same poster in 1998:

In the members of the US military of the 1960s, and its surviving human tatters today, “to book” does not mean “to hurry”, but rather “to leave the premises abruptly”. “Let’s book” means “Let’s get out of here”. At the end of an all-night party, some revelers had crashed (i.e. fallen asleep here and there on the premises), and others had booked (i.e., disappeared).

More from 1960s:

This is exactly the usage I remember from the Calif. Bay Area in the 1960s – “he was bookin’ ” or “they were bookin’ right along”. No other forms of the verb. Now I’m wondering if “Let’s boogie” has any connection, because it meant sort of the same – Let’s get going. But I thought the sense there was “Let’s dance”. Was “bookin’ ” ever used to mean dancing?

Some suggested origins are:

  • booking out of a hotel is to leave;
  • from boogie, that also meant to move quickly, to get going;
  • you could say of a fast moving car “it booked”, perhaps tied into breaking a speed record, which may be entered in a book;
  • booked, as in “departed”, comes from the days of ocean liners – “booked passage”.
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A slang book dates backs to the late 1960's and the early 1970's. I am from Baltimore, Maryland and I went to Greenspring Junior High. The kids there used them to bully and disparage the character of folks who they didn't like or whom they were simply jealous of. The idea was to get a black and white composition book and on the front you would write the name of the home-room class. Usually, the creator, or the lead bully, would then start a single page for each individual person that he/she wanted to "Jone" on. Sometimes, every student in the section had a page in the book. The book would get passed around from person to person. Sometimes (lots of times), there would be anonymous postings. It was much like the cyber bullying of today -sans the internet.

The slang book was notorious for creating fights, contention, and all out discord in many junior high schools and middle schools in the area where I grew up. By the time I entered High School, they were non-existent.

Loris Lisa-Marie Hyman-Walker

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I know this saying from African-Americans in the mid-sixties. Back then marijuana was still measured in a coffee can lid; that would be a "lid of weed"(an ounce). It makes sense that "book it" it might have come from the military; blacks were certainly over-represented in Vietnam. I guess it could mean sign in/sign out. Shorthand: "book it." The phrase reminds of another African-American phrase: "get hat." Meaning get your hat and let's go. Came into white usage when Jefferson Airplane used that phrase in "White Rabbit." Another bit of language later taken up by whites was explained by, I think, Malcom X who noted how grown black men turned a symbol of weakness into one of nurturing, bonding and strength by greeting one another as "Baby!"

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This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post - you can always comment on your own posts, and once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post. –  RyeɃreḁd Aug 21 at 5:45
    
Hi Gail, welcome to EL&U. You put a lot of titbits into your post, but it's not actually an answer. Unlike usual forums, where you can post things that are tengentially related to the topic at hand, Stack Exchange answers are reserved for answering the question only. If you do have an answer, you might like to edit you post to make it clear. –  Matt Эллен Aug 22 at 7:13

I just checked with my boss. It was a common phrase in his high school in Wyoming. He claims that he heard it no later than about 1965 (graduated in 1969). Where he lived had no particular military influence, though he does not rule out that origin.

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I grew up in Philadelphia in the 1960s and never heard the expression until I entered the US Air Force in 1972. It was very common military speech. It meant that someone else had left - "He booked" - or that the speaker desired to leave - "Let's book." It also meant moving quickly, as in: "he was REALLY bookin' it."

With absolutely no proof of this, I always assumed it came from a classroom setting. Picture the bell ringing at the end of class, the students all slamming their books shut, and beating feet.

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Mike, welcome to ELU. Your answer seems to be based only on your personal knowledge and experience and would be improved if you could find some sources. It would be interesting if someone could assess Poepje's earlier comment. Thanks. –  Michael Owen Sartin Jan 26 at 20:21
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@MichaelOwenSartin As a source of facts to support an answer, we do welcome a person's own knowledge. I don't mean to say you're wrong: peer-reviewed online sources are the gold standard. But Mike's observation about the military context is a useful fact. –  MετάEd Jan 27 at 15:01

It is definitely of U.S. military origin, as several previous commenters have stated. You signed a log book upon leaving and returning when granted leave or a pass. To "book" used as a verb simply meant that you were leaving your base with permission. There was no connotation of a rapid exit. And, there is no connection whatsoever to the word "boogie."

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Can you remember roughly when and where you first heard it? –  Hugo Jan 14 at 8:51
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Being "definite" is not quite enough, some supporting reference is needed to qualify this as an answer. In fact, that's what the purpose of this Q&A is, although opinions and ideas that contribute to knowledge may be posted as comments. Can you help? –  Kris Jan 14 at 12:02

I began using this term in the State of Illinois, City of Chicago in 1973. Peers at school were using it and thus, I added it to my vocabulary. I believe the term comes from 'booking passage; to depart'. After reading here that the Dutch use it for the exact same circumstances, I am conviced 100% that it is the true origin.

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I've used "book" since the mid 70's in Rochester NY so it pre dates that by how much don't know but bit was widely used all over during that time and since. Usually its used very simply as "I've gotta book" ... meaning I gotta go now or "He was really bookin'" used when something /someone is going faster than normal

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The phrase "booking it" likely comes from the Scandinavian sailing term "psalmbooking," which means sailing with the wind (also known as "running").

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Why is it likely? –  Matt Эллен Jun 6 '13 at 18:01
    
Is that your own guess based on similar sounding names, or is there scholarship to back it up? –  MετάEd Jun 6 '13 at 22:03

I've heard it started as a military term from the Army. You had to sign in and out in a log book whenever you left the company area. Especially when you went on leave (vacation). Think I read that it started around the Vietnam war years. I used to use it as a kid in the 80s. Also servung in the Army so I know all about signing in and out in log books.

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Check out this website, maybe it helps: http://ask.metafilter.com/80636/Etymology-of-the-word-book-meaning-go

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.

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It's interesting. One person there speculates that it may derive from "boogie" which is a verb "to dance to fast music". Certainly I can imagine it would be a natural shift of the progressive form of the verb from "he's really boogie-ing" to "he's really booking". –  MετάEd Jan 9 '12 at 23:43
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I'v been using it all my life and that is well before 1990. ... As for the how? Just a guess, but when I was in the Army, we had to sign out in a book when we took leave or had a pass so it could hav started in a like way. –  AnWulf Jan 10 '12 at 0:16
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I've been using it since the early 70s. The quoted passage is so out of touch it sounds like it was pulled from redacted. –  horatio May 23 '12 at 15:50

We used book or booking meaning to leave hurriedly or to go fast at my middle-class suburban high school in the mid-eighties in Minnesota. We only used the term boogie ironically.

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