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Echoes of the Week, and the International Exhibition

The Illustrated London News, vol.41, no.1169, p.403.

October 18, 1862


...While talking of Professor Owen we may remark that the monkey-versus-man controversy which, at the recent meeting of the British Association, led to such a sharp verbal encounter between Messrs. Owen and Huxley, has, to the great disappointment of the quarrelsome, failed in provoking anything like continued discussion. A spasmodic attempt to keep up the ball was made in a burlesque letter from "A Gorilla," which appeared in the Times; but the public is languid just now about every mortal thing save the American War, and has no time to waste upon the brainpans of baboons. People seem very well satisfied with the inward conviction that they are not apes, and trouble themselves very little as to whether the apes are or are not our "poor relations."

"The troops skedaddled." This incongruous expression has, since the outburst of the Cain and Abel contest in America, become familiar in our mouths--not precisely as household words, for Englishmen, we trust, will be never given to "skedaddling;" but as any other eccentric Transatlanticism, such as "absquatulating," "taking tracks," "sloping," "wilting," "vamosing," &c. To "skedaddle" is, in Federal language, to run away; but a North British philologist has lately discovered that the word is Scotch, not American, and that "skedaddling" is simply the action of "jabbling," or shaking the contents of milkpails of which the yoke is not accurately balanced on the milkmaid's shoulders. We accept the North British theory. Will the Caledonian sage accept our etymology? A "skid" or "kid" is a tub-pail or bucket. To "addle" is obvious: hence "skedaddling" is only "addling" or decomposing the lacteal contents of a "skid."

Although the Americans have introduced a vast amount of slang into the Anglo-Saxon tongue, many of the so-called "Americanisms" are simply provincial and archaic terms hundreds of years old, conveyed to the plantations by the very first settlers in Virginia or Massachusetts whence they have been retransmitted to the mother country. On the other hand, many words to which an American origin, or at least modification, may be conceded, are improvements rather than defects in our tongue. Take the adjective "lengthy" for instance: a word which is to be found in all modern dictionaries, albeit generally inserted under protest as a superfluous innovation, but which Mr. Richard Rush, the accomplished Minister from the United States to this country, assured Mr. Canning, in 1818, was an American word devised by his ingenious countrymen to signify a thing being tedious as well as long.

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