Valerie wrote, “I just heard ‘get the skinny’ said by a news anchor, [and it] got me wondering about the origins. Have you covered that one?”
I hadn’t yet, but now, I have the skinny—the news, the gossip, or the real truth—on the phrase “get the skinny.”
This seems to be a purely American saying, and it’s on the rise. A search for the phrase in Google books shows a steep and steady increase starting around 1975. But the search turned up no use in British English at all, which I almost never see.
The Oxford English Dictionary calls the phrase slang and also says it originated in the U.S. and is still chiefly used in the U.S.
The first example is from a 1938 autobiography by Richard Hallett, “a writer who has bummed his way around the world.” It doesn’t appear to be related to the armed forces in any way, but two other sources (Etymology Online and “The Dictionary of American Slang”) say the phrase started as World War II military slang, and they speculate it might have evolved from the idea of the naked truth, which means the plain truth or the truth told without concealment.
The World Wide Words website also has an excellent article on the topic. It includes a couple of examples of people quoted in the 1940s and ’50s saying it’s military slang, but the examples don’t seem to tie it back to the “naked truth” theory.
An alternative theory that I found on The Phrase Finder message board is that during World War II, Marines received their military orders on especially thin paper and these missives came to be called “the skinny,” as in, “What’s the skinny on promotions,” but I couldn’t find anything to back up that theory, and I’m more inclined to believe the “naked truth” theory, which I’ve seen from multiple credible sources.