This verb is used in expressions such as “I’ll see you later – gotta book now”.
- Slang. b. to leave; depart: I’m bored with this party, let’s book.¹
Anybody know the origin of this slang term?
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It only takes a minute to sign up.Sign up to join this community
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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!"
On page 93 of the book Marine Sniper: 93 Confirmed Kills, book is used in a paragraph with an asterisk.
The footnote reads:
* Marine jargon meaning to go or to leave. Until early 1970s, Marines were required to sign out on liberty in the duty NCO's log book as they picked up their liberty cards. From that came the term "Book Out", which was shortened to "Book."
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.
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.
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
First heard 'gotta book' , 'man, he was bookin' in basic training Ft. Dix N.J. April,1970. It was ubiquitous , used by nearly everyone and well established. My guess for origin would be U.S. military Viet Nam mid '60's.Signing of log and pass books seems to me kinda sketchy. Interesting Dutch analog.
Here's the OED entry under book as a verb:
b. N. Amer. To move quickly; (also) to leave, go away, esp. quickly or abruptly. Frequently with down, out. J. E. Lighter Hist. Dict. Amer. Slang (1994) I. 237/2 records an oral use from 1974.
1977 SkateBoarder Apr. 71 Blazing trails of animal grace and aggression, Constantineau..ends his performance by booking it through the snake run.
1978 J. Webb Fields of Fire 197 Bagger, you book on out o' here, man. I gotta rap with a brother, hear?
1987 Dirt Wheels Mag. Aug. 46/2 When you're booking down a fast mountain fire road, make sure you know what's round the next bend.
1996 J. Whedon Welcome to Hellmouth in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Script Bk. (2000) 1st Season I. 26 Buffy. Uh, look, I gotta book. I'll see you guys later.
2000 Calgary (Alberta, Canada) Herald (Nexis) 25 Apr. b1 I've never felt heat like that... We had to run..and try to get the doors open, then book it out of there.
2001 D. Lehane Mystic River 249 She's running full-out, he's gotta be charging after her like a raped ape. I mean, he's booking through that park.
There's also a noun meaning of book, "to close the book on", as well as uses mentioned above with respect to "booking" a suspect in a criminal case or logging in or out (often military). The Google NGram of "close the book on" goes back quite a ways.
The phrase "booking it" likely comes from the Scandinavian sailing term "psalmbooking," which means sailing with the wind (also known as "running").
Thank you for your interest in this question.
Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).
Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?