The Grammarphobia Blog

What’s the skinny on “skinny”?

Q: Perhaps you can put me out of some minor misery by answering this question: why is the expression “the skinny” used for the word “information”? This usage has me baffled and irritated.

A: The use of “skinny” as a noun meaning information is relatively new. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the first published citation as 1959, when the question “What’s the skinny?” was translated as “What’s up?” The OED describes the usage as chiefly American slang.

There’s no reliable explanation for the origin of the expression, but it’s been speculated that “to get down to the skinny” (that is, to get the essential information about something), was like getting down to the skin of an issue. Well, that’s as good an explanation as any, I suppose.