GI: "Government Issue"?

Wilson Gray wilson.gray at RCN.COM
Tue Dec 28 23:21:43 UTC 2004

On Dec 27, 2004, at 5:44 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM>
> Subject:      Re: GI: "Government Issue"?
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> Gosh, Wilson, if I had HDAS vol. 1 to hand, I could cite you chapter
> and verse. But I do have anecdotal evidence. The grandfather of a
> friend of mine served in France in the 42nd "Rainbow" Division inWorld
> War I. While still hale and hearty in the early 1970s, he expressed
> surprise that ANYBODY could believe that "G.I." (as an adjective)
> originated in World War II.  He said it stood for "government issue,"
> and was used "all the time" in 1917-18. As in "G.I. shoes," "G.I.
> chow," etc.  (BTW, he knew only two stanzas of "Hinky Dinky Parley
> Vous.")
> And documentation backs him up. I especially remember a cartoon
> published in 1918 in a unit newspaper - might have been "The La Treen
> Rumor" - that showed a skinny Santa arriving with a big bag full of
> cans marked "corned willy" (corned beef hash), "goldfish" (canned
> salmon), etc. The drawing bore the caption, "A G.I. Christmas."
> Earliest cite of the noun ("a soldier") seems to be from West Point,
> late '30s.  Earlier editions of the West Point yearbook "The Howitzer"
> offer "G.I." adj. as "government issue."
> The earliest sense of the abbreviation, however, in print in 1906 and
> in use through both World Wars, was "galvanized iron," applied
> especially to buckets and garbage cans.
> You just ain't old enough, man !
> JL

I guess that the phrase, "government issue," had simply died out by my
day, though "G.I. can" still lives or, perhaps, lived, in my day. But
it was applied only to 40-gallon-sized, galvanized-iron garbage cans.
And "S.O.P." was sometimes used instead of "G.I." in some instances,
e.g. "that's not G.I./S.O.P." with respect to a locker that wouldn't
pass inspection. But even a person who said "... not S.O.P." would
advise, "You'd better G.I. that/get that G.I.'d."

BTW, there was also a kind of shapeless, soft, cloth cap, such as the
marines wear in starched form, issued to us, but which we were
forbidden to wear, unless we were pulling some labor-intensive duty
like K.P. This cap was called a "[kei pi]" cap. Naturally, I assumed
that this was "K.P. cap." But then, I flashed on the possibility that
the name of this was actually   "_k├ępi_ cap." Any thoughts?


> Wilson Gray <wilson.gray at RCN.COM> wrote:
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> Sender: American Dialect Society
> Poster: Wilson Gray
> Subject: GI: "Government Issue"?
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> --------
> Is there any evidence of any kind, even anecdotal, to support the claim
> that "GI" means or once meant "government issue"? During my time in the
> military, I never once heard the term, "government issue," (and yes, I
> *was* listening for it) used by anyone to designate or to refer to
> anything. Terms actually used were "Army issue" or "military issue" or
> "regular/regulation issue" and these were never abbreviated to "AI" or
> "MI" or "RI." On the other hand, "GI" was universally used in a million
> different contexts, e.g.
> GI beans and GI gravy!
> Gee, I wish I'd joined the Navy!
> Sound off!
> etc.
> -Wilson Gray
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