"flight," as in on the lam, 1897, from a U.S. Slang verb definition "to operation off" (1886), of unsure origin, perhaps somehow indigenous the very first element of lambaste, which was provided in British college student slang for "beat" since 1590s.
Does anyone understand of any type of other explanations?
New come me, yet the OED gives it as united state slang and also from the verb ‘lam’, meaning ‘to operation off, to escape’, which, again, is united state slang. The origin sems to it is in in one Old Norse native which is cognate through ‘lame’.
You are watching: What does on the lam mean
This question was posted in 2011, but apparently there had been research studies on the etymology that this term that haven"t been disputed in currently answers. Over there is a 1998 article on this exact topic in The brand-new York times Magazine: top top Language; on the Lam, that Made Thee? By wilhelm SAFIRE, march 1, 1998:
In The Random house Historical dictionary of American Slang, J.E. Lighter specifies the term as prison lingo because that ""an act of to run or flight, esp. A dash to escape native custody."" In his 1886 ""30 years a Detective,"" Allan Pinkerton, the very first ""private eye,"" defines an operation of pickpockets: ""After the secures the wallet, he will utter the word "lam!" This method to allow the man go and also to get out that the means as shortly as possible."" Lighter cites perform a lam, make a lam and also take a lam at an early stage in this century, finally emerging as the passive state of gift on the lam.
And the OED"s information on the Scandinavian origin is echoed here:
Lighter speculates the it may be rooted in the language Scandinavian verb lam, as in the 1525 ""his wife sore lamming him,"" definition ""to beat, lb or strike."" note Twain provided it twice: ""lamming the lady"" in 1855 and also ""lam favor all creation"" in 1865, both clearly meaning ""to beat."" The said connection is that to stop a fear lamming (related come slamming), one lams.
So this theory speculates the there"s the verb lam first, attested by note Twain"s usage of words in his books. Then possibly a new meaning evolved the end of the verb: in order to not gain lammed, one goes on the lam.
See more: When Does Elf On The Shelf Leave ? When Does Elf On The Shelf Leave
Other theories additionally exist:
At the university of Missouri at Rolla, Gerald Cohen, a professor of foreign languages at this time at work-related on a slang dictionary, has one more theory. He note the cant lammas in Eric Partridge"s thesaurus of the Underworld, the lingo the costermongers in London about 1855, additionally spelled nammou, meaning ""to depart, esp. Furtively"" and also related to vamoose in the lingo the the American West.
""Namase v its variant spellings,"" Cohen says, ""was the typical cant term for "leave/make off/depart/skedaddle." ns don"t recognize why nam became lam, but the definitions are the same.""