Catching a Phrase and a Peek up Women’s Skirts

I better start talking about other things on here again lest you think I have been completely consumed with Olympic-mania (even though I have).

The games are sitting in the picnic baskets

I was at a wedding last weekend in Sechelt and it was one of the funnest ones I’ve attended. The bride and groom are big fans of games – board games, card games, you name it. Needless to say, this was a big theme at the reception. Despite the variety of games to choose from, we played hours and hours of catch phrase. It was like the energizer bunny of games – it just kept going and going and going, and it was hilarious (as the box promises!)

I tell you this because of one of the phrases no one got until the buzzer timed out. A guest was describing “flatiron building” and I guess it’s one of those things most people would recognize in cities even though it seems not many people know what it’s called.

I came across the word when researching architectural terms for my Master’s. I confess I initially pronounced it “fla-tear-in” rather than its literal compound construction: flat + iron.

These are those angled buildings you get on a city grid when there’s one street running diagonal. Since developers don’t like to waste precious city space, they squeeze a triangular-shaped building into this wedge space. Vancouver has one and I’m sure many other cities do, but let’s visit this famous one in New York:

You can see the triangular Flatiron Building in the distance if you look where the bright yellow streets of 5th Ave and Broadway converge

Broadway is the diagonal street interrupting the rigid grid of Manhattan. Where it intersects with 23 Street and Fifth Avenue, there’s a triangular plot of land. The limestone and terracotta Flatiron Building stands in this wedge.

Completed in 1902, this 22-story, 286-foot high building created a stir for its height (one of the tallest buildings in the city at the time), its ingenious and elegant design, and its revolutionary steel frame. It was originally known as the Fuller Building, but due to the building’s shape that resembles a clothes iron (especially from a bird’s eye view), the nickname “Flatiron” stuck.

Apparently the geography of this intersection surrounding the Flatiron Building created strong wind tunnels. Men quickly figured this out and began loitering on 23rd Street hoping to catch a peek up women’s billowing skirts. (ah, the entertainment in the old days). Due to this recurring problem, local cops shooed away the male peepers, giving them the “23 skidoo,” which is one explanation for the origin of that phrase, which means to leave quickly, or to be forced to leave.

A 1905 postcard. The Flatiron Building in the background shows that 23rd Street is the location.

So there’s some fun trivia for you about flatiron buildings – probably more than you wanted to know. Now you have no excuse if you get stuck with this word in a riveting round of catch phrase!

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