Girdle String --> G-string?

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sat Mar 27 09:38:12 UTC 2010

I'm ignoring the rest of the thread, for the moment, because it has
little bearing on this comment.

I would be careful with StraightDope because, like many similar sites,
they are excellent on contemporary factual claims, but less than stellar
on historical ones that cannot be directly verified. And if it's a
random posting on a message board, it's doubly questionable in
origin--but can be perfectly legitimate.

Regardless of the source, I remain deeply skeptical of the claim.

It would be difficult to figure this out unless there happened to be a
publication that used both G-string and girdle string in close
proximity. In particular, an anthropology journal (if such a thing
existed) from 1870 and 80s. Lacking that, maybe we can find a single
author that uses both at different times.

But, of course, there is one other possibility, which, unfortunately, is
exceedingly rare. There might be a linear translation of a passage with
"G-string" into another language, which might be checked against "girdle
string" in that language. Well, surprise, surprise! There is such a
publication! Whether it helps or not is a different question.
La Solidaridad. Translated by Guadalupe Fores-Ganzon. Vol. III, 1891.
p. 124
> Y aquellos pueblos, inmundo caos de razas inferiores, sociedades en
> calzoncillos, son el proceso generador desenvuelto á horcajadas de la
> Historia, incapaz de un destello de intelígencia, asomo de dignidad,
> átomo de vergüenza. ¡Cuán grandes estas razas de acá géremenes de las
> explosiones civilizadoras! ¡Quévliliputienses y hueras las de allá
> dignas sólo del sangriento golpe de la vengadora tralla! Por eso,
> excelentísimo señor, para tratar á aquel pueblo en taparrabos, para
> conseguir algo práctico de esos organismos agonizantes, importa, urge,
> leña, much leña, bejuco, látigo, inmoralidad.
p. 125
> That unholy mixture of inferior races, of people in G-strings is the
> generating factor in the development of the tangles of history,
> incapable of even a glimmer of intelligence, without a vestige of
> dignity, nor an atom of shame. How wonderful are the people from here!
> They are the civilizing elements. How liliputian and vacuous those are
> of that place! They deserve cruel blows of the lash. And therefore, my
> kind sir, to treat those people in G-strings, to achieve something of
> practical value among those suffering creatures, it is necessary,
> urgent to have a stick, many sticks--straps, lash, immorality.
p. 290
> ¿Con que han repetido hasta la saciedad que los filipinos van, en su
> mayor /en/ teparrabo?
> ¡Ir /en/ taparrabo! ¡Hombre, qué curioso medio de locomoción!
> En cambio, nosotros sabemos otras cosas.
> A Filipinas van jóvenes expulsados por ineptos de las Escuelas de
> Ingenieros, y veulven de allí con hoja de parra y con las vergüenzas
> cubiertas.
> Es decir, arropados, adecentados..... exteriormente.
> ¿Qué contraste, eh?
p. 291
> They repeat to the point of boredom that a majority of Filipinos wear
> G-strings?
> Wear G-strings, indeed! Man, what a strange way of going about.
> However, we know otherwise.
> Young men expelled from the schools of engineering go to the
> Philippines and return with something to hide their shame.
> Meaning...clothed decently ... outwardly.
> What a contrast, eh?
p. 292
> No es preciso que nos lo diga nadie: en la Exposición Filipina de
> Madrid hemos visto, efectivamente, la potente civilización igorrote;
> hemos visto á las razas primitivas, de las cuales se confiesan hijos,
> vestir muy airosamente el taparrabo, manejar á maravilla la lanza y el
> arco; sancricar un animal inmundo y danzar, confrotados por el
> alcohol, al derredor de la víctima, ébrios, rebajados, moralmente
> deprimidos, y en estado de postracion y salváje aletargamiento.
p. 293
> It is not necessary that we be told by anybody: that in the Philippine
> Exhibit in Madrid we have seen, effectively, the significant Igorot
> culture; we have seen primitive tribes whose representatives are
> scantily clothed in G-strings, use the bow and arrow very well;
> sacrifice a filthy animal and dance under the influence of alcohol
> around the victim, intoxicated, vicious, morally debased.
p. 633
> Tampoco es cierto que usaban el taparrabos, pues todos los autores
> citados hablan de sus vestidos de seda, una gasa de la India llamada
> /chinina/, valiosas alhajas, y todos están conformes en que su
> indumentaria no carecía de buen gusto.
p. 634
> It is not also true that they wore G-strings because all the authors
> cited mentioned their clothes of silk, a gauze from India called
> chinina, costly jewels. All writers agreed in their accounts of
> ancient apparel that the people had good taste.
p. 640
> En la lámina VI van dibujados bahaques, turbantes y jaquetas hechos de
> corteza de árbol, industria especial de los guinaanes.
p. 641
> On Plate VI are drawn G-strings, turbans and jackets made of tree
> barks, a special industry of the Guinaans.

1986 "Academic" definition of taparrabo is "pedazo de tela con que se
cubren las partes pudendas". I am not sure if any of the three different
words (calzoncillos, taparrabos and bahaques) are particularly useful in
translation, but the first two translate basically as underpants and
loincloth. Taparrabo(s) is still in use, it seems.

There are only two books in GB that have taparrabo and girdle in the
same text. One occurrence is in a glossary that makes no connection
between the two words (taparrabo is a loincloth). The other is more
interesting, but I can't get past the snippet that only gives part of
the information. But, it seems, the passage does connect "girdle [?]
bandage" with "taparrabo", which the author translates as "breech
clout", but suggests both expressions are "uncouth ... grossly profane
when applied to the /maro ura/ or the /maro tea/--the sacred cincture of
rank assumed by the paramount Chief at his installment, and during
certain solemn and transcendent rites of the native cult". GB lists the
volume as 1913, but there are actually three volumes and I am not sure
which one the citation is from (GB says vol. 32, which suggest it's
volume 1 of the work, as the other two are vols. 36 and 43 of the
society papers).

The quest and occupation of Tahiti by emissaries of Spain during the
years 1772-1776. Told in despatches and other contemporary documents;
tr. into English and comp., with notes and an introduction, by Bolton
Glanvill Corney ...
London, Printed for the Hakluyt Society, 1913-19

1913 is a lot closer to the original use of G-string and it is not
corrupted by later use.

There is another volume (2008) that has a linear translation of
taparrabo as G-string.

[Same passage also here ]

There is also an indication that where Spanish was the first colonial
language, the outfits first became known as taparrabo, then G-string,
with both terms used in English. The Cambridge dictionary translates
G-string as "tanga" and "taparrabos" as "loincloth".

Another lineal translation suggests that taparrabos and G-strings for
dancers are not the same thing--

Of course, this could just be the preferences of the translator.

Whatever else might be going on, one Polish anthropologist suggests
G-string as a euphemism for Groin-string rather than Girdle-string.

But one other thing should not be forgotten--the lowest string on a
violin is the G-string. Could it be that the name was coined by a
musically inclined anthropologist with a sense of humor and propriety at
the same time?

Luke & Quinn's Americanisms () suggests the coinage to 1930s strippers
(clearly missing the mark), so their attribution to "perhaps short for
'girdle string'" is just as suspect.

I don't know. Perhaps to the Victorian ear, "girdle" sounded uncouth.
But "groin" definitely did. From there, your mileage may vary. I have
yet another possibility, one that is supported by specific language
occasionally found in the 1880s reference to G-strings. More
specifically, they are always G-strings, never g-strings. And sometimes
they are "G" strings, which suggests that the letter is all one needs.
If you look at the basic form of aboriginal G-string just about anywhere
(other than Tahiti, apparently), it tends to be wider in front and
narrower in the back, but, otherwise, it's a piece of material bent
around the genitals in a crescent shape--perhaps, initially, it was
considered to resemble a G. A loincloth is more like a very small apron.
An actual "girdle string" has either no attachments (as in a string worn
around the waste by some Hindu groups from childhood, and, in fact,
which was the entire dress for small children at one point) or has
attachments that are identified by another name (e.g.,
Melanesian/Polynesian /malo/ or /maro/) or serves the function of a
belt, holding up breeches. The distribution of G-string and "girdle
string" among GB docs is virtually exclusive--the attire in India in
mid-19th century books and documents is referred to as "girdle string"
and never G-string. For American Indians, I found only two references to
"girdle string" and that was prior to the appearance of "G-string". If
this were euphemistic use, you would have expected the terminology to be
virtually completely replaced, but "girdle string" remained the term
used for the waste string in India--largely, because it is an actual
string tied to the waste, not a G-string.

As I said, your mileage may vary, but I don't see the equivalence.
Girdle string refers to a string--that may be singular or a part of an
outfit. G-string is just a skimpy covering, but it's an entire outfit,
not an actual "string". Furthermore, if academics wanted to avoid the
supposed indignity of "girdle", they could have used a perfectly
reasonable equivalent "cincture"--and, in fact, the use of cincture is
quite common for everything from the belt holding up a sword, to
priestly vestments to trim on an academician's hat--hundreds of hits in
GB for the second half of the 19th century, far more than either
girdle-string or G-string combined (including all the musical
references).  I found no hits for "groin string", aside form the recent
Polish book.


On 3/26/2010 5:50 PM, Baker, John wrote:
>          On the Straight Dope Message Board,
>, someone who
> goes by Exapno Mapcase has posted an argument that "G-string" derives
> from the 19th century term "girdle string."  "G-string," of course, is
> known from 1877 with the spelling "geestring" and from 1882 with the
> spellings "G-string" and "'G' string."  "Girdle string," which dates
> from 1846 in Google Books, has the same meaning as "G-string"
> (essentially, a string around the waist, and a cloth or tassel suspended
> therefrom, worn by some non-Western peoples).
>          Would this kind of abbreviation have been common in the 19th
> century?  This explanation does seem more plausible than any of the
> competing theories.  On the other hand, I'm a little taken aback by the
> consideration that "G-string" seems to apply primarily to American
> Indians, while the few examples of "girdle string" seem to refer to
> other indigenous peoples.
> John Baker

The American Dialect Society -

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