BOOK IT: to depart quickly

book it

Just to prove that American English is alive and growing, let’s look at a term today that just arrived on the scene in the 70’s.   Book it is characterized in the dictionaries as a “student term,” meaning that it derives from student life and has most of its use and meaning in the context of academia…let’s say the less serious side of academia.

Book it is a term that means to pick up speed to get someplace.   It has a variety of uses, but the one captured in the cartoon is, perhaps, the most common.   Students talk about “the need to book it to get to class on time.”  It indicates that you’re running late for class, and if you don’t put some speed into your movement, you’re going to be in trouble.

College students (for the most part) are invariably procrastinators.   Leaving the writing of a paper until the last minute; staying in bed for a few more minutes before bounding out to get to class; failing to turn in a paper at the specified hour.  These are all examples of the common experience on campuses all across the country.   That’s why students turn up in morning classes with “bed hair, odors of the previous night’s festivities, and clothing that looks like it was slept in (because it was!)”

The term, as I said, is most common on campuses.  But it’s not restricted to there.  Those students who were matriculating in the 70’s are now parents, and the term has continued to have meaning in their lives.   Now, however, it’s that warning which is shouted up the staircase to cluttered, smelly bedrooms.

You’d better book it if you expect me to drop you off at school.  I have to be at work in 20 minutes.  You heard me, BOOK IT!”

Less parental uses also prevail.

Marci, I’ve got to book it.  Jerry’s home for dinner in a half hour and I’ve barely thawed the pork chops.”


Well, Ralph, that contract is due on my desk by 3:00.  If you don’t book it you may find yourself back in the mail room come tomorrow!”

I doubt if the term book it will ever make it to fine literature.  It’s more of a casual term, but a good one for dialogue in less serious literature.   It shows up in movies and on TV.   I do have to wonder if it’s a dated term that will evaporate as the Gen X population fades into the background and eventually is gone.   I don’t sense that the words “book it” are around as much in the current youth culture.  Maybe, however, I’m not around them enough to hear it.  Let me know.


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