A reader asks,
Is it “skid row” or “skid road,” and what’s the proper usage?
The expression “skid row” is the common term in modern usage, but it’s thought to derive from an earlier term associated with the logging industry.
In Washington State and other centers of the lumber industry, loggers built roads out of logs and then skidded newly cut logs down these “skid roads.” As time went on, saloons and brothels sprang up along the skid roads and the term took on the meaning, “a district abounding in vicious characters and the practice of vice.”
When the expression migrated to urban environments, road became row, perhaps in imitation of established streets with names like Park Row and Tryon Row.
During the economically terrible years of the 1930s, the term skid row was applied to city districts where the unemployed congregated: the Bowery in New York City, the Tenderloin district in San Francisco, and areas along West Madison Street in Chicago.
New construction and gentrification have altered the old city conformations. Except in Los Angeles, the term “skid row” is usually used to mean “any run-down area of a town where the unemployed, vagrants, alcoholics, drug dealers, etc., tend to congregate” or “the lowest possible social and economic state of existence.”
Alone among large US cities, Los Angeles still has a geographical skid row called by that name:
The city maintains more than 1,400 bins on Skid Row to store belongings seized during street cleanups or voluntarily stowed by homeless people. —LA Times
They rarely think of Skid Row, a 54-block area on the downtown’s outskirts that has the highest concentration of homeless people in the country. —The Daily Beast
Skid Row’s homeless are estimated to make up 10% of LA’s downtown population. —The Guardian
Skid Row is an area of downtown Los Angeles. As of the 2000 census, the population of the district was 17,740. —Wikipedia
Skid row evokes a state of penniless, homeless, uncared-for destitution:
Joe Roberts, known as the Skid Row CEO, went from living under a bridge in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in 1989 to becoming a Canadian millionaire before he turned 35.
Now it [a rundown lighthouse] had the look of a dowager who, through no fault of her own, had somehow found herself on skid row.
Most [jail occupants] are addicts, skid-row winos, homeless people, or a mixture of all three.
The Street with No Name is a 1948 black-and-white film noir. The movie, shot in a semi-documentary style, takes place in the Skid Row section of fictional “Central City.”
This film [Dementia], with no dialogue at all, follows a psychotic young woman’s nightmarish experiences through one skid-row night.
Another expression with the word skid is “to be on the skids”: to be in a state of decline. The idiom is often seen in the media in reference to some celebrity’s marriage:
Randy Jackson’s marriage on the skids.
Kardashian is said to be beside herself with loneliness and boredom, resorting to food binges to cope with a marriage on the skids.