take a powder

take a powder

verb (used without object)

  1. British Dialect. to rush.


  1. British Dialect. a sudden, frantic, or impulsive rush.


  1. take a powder, Slang. to leave in a hurry; depart without taking leave, as to avoid something unpleasant: He took a powder and left his mother to worry about his gambling debts.Also take a runout powder.


  1. a solid substance in the form of tiny loose particles
  2. any of various preparations in this form, such as gunpowder, face powder, or soap powder
  3. fresh loose snow, esp when considered as skiing terrain
  4. take a powder US and Canadian slang to run away or disappear


  1. to turn into powder; pulverize
  2. (tr) to cover or sprinkle with or as if with powder

n.c.1300, “ash, cinders; dust of the earth;” early 14c., “pulverized substance;” mid-14c., “medicinal powder;” late 14c. as “gunpowder,” from Old French poudre “dust, powder; ashes; powdered substance” (13c.), earlier pouldre (11c.), from Latin pulverem (nominative pulvis) “dust” (see pollen). Specialized sense “gunpowder” is from late 14c. In the sense “powdered cosmetic,” it is recorded from 1570s. In figurative sense, powder keg is first attested 1855. Powder room, euphemistic for “women’s lavatory,” is attested from 1936. Earlier it meant “place where gunpowder is stored on a warship” (1620s). Powder horn attested by 1530s. Powder puff first recorded 1704; as a symbol of femaleness or effeminacy, in use from at least 1930s. Phrase take a powder “scram, vanish,” is from 1920; it was a common phrase as a doctor’s instruction, so perhaps from the notion of taking a laxative medicine or a sleeping powder, with the result that one has to leave in a hurry (or, on another guess, from a magician’s magical powder, which made things disappear). Powder blue (1650s) was smelt used in laundering; as a color name from 1894. v.c.1300, “to put powder on;” late 14c., “to make into powder,” from Old French poudrer “to pound, crush to powder; strew, scatter,” from poudre (see powder (n.)). Related: Powdered; powdering. n.

  1. A dry mass of pulverized or finely dispersed solid particles.
  2. Any of various medicinal or cosmetic preparations in the form of powder.
  3. A single dose of a powdered drug.

To make a quick departure: “When he saw the police coming, the thief decided to take a powder.” Make a speedy departure, run away, as in I looked around and he was gone—he’d taken a powder. This slangy idiom may be derived from the British dialect sense of powder as “a sudden hurry,” a usage dating from about 1600. It may also allude to the explosive quality of gunpowder. see keep one’s powder dry; sitting on a powder keg; take a powder.

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