[Ads-l] gig, gigging, gigger (1921)

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Fri Aug 7 16:54:50 UTC 2015

My latest Wall Street Journal column is on the evolution of "gig,"
quoting the 1921 Billboard article.


On Thu, Aug 6, 2015 at 9:14 AM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:
> Here's a nice antedating for the musical sense of "gig" as noun and
> verb. OED2 has the noun from 1926 ("an engagement for a musician or
> musicians playing jazz, dance-music, etc.") and the verb from 1939
> ("to do a 'gig' or 'gigs'").
> -----
> "Gigging," The Billboard, Aug 6, 1921, p. 64, col. 1
> When an orchestra played soft and low behind the palms at a
> fashionable wedding, when a jazz band sang and played as you ate, when
> the musicians played a tune or two to keep the audience amused till
> the speaker arrived, when some of the boys entertained the gang with a
> colored orchestra, when two or three played a dance at a private home,
> when these similar events occurred you may not have not known it, but
> you witnessed a "Gig," for that is the term by which such employment
> is known to about four thousand musicians and singers who are daily
> engaged at it.
> No sympathy need be wasted on the musicians you see passing on the
> streets late of a night. Most of them are union men who because of
> special adaptability or reputation command a salary beyond even the
> union scale. To this may be added the tips or gratuities that come
> their way.
> The most famous group of players of this type is the Clef Club of New
> York, whose members have played engagements everywhere society
> foregathers. There are more than two hundred "Clefties" as they call
> themselves. In the organization are twelve different "bookers," as
> those who direct engagements are called. They work as soloists or in
> group formation, as when they give their annual concert tours.
> Usually, however, small units of from three to a dozen persons work together.
> There are in the country probably a hundred similar musical
> organizations of lesser size as to membership, but wherever they are,
> they are "the life of the party." They are an integral part of the
> amusement life of the country. Their value in popularizing new music
> is beyond measure.
> From the Giggers come many of the vaudeville artists of the stage.
> Composers of many of the song hits of the decade are playing at the
> present time with one outfit or the other. The work is attractive not
> alone because of the pay, but for the more intimate contact with folks
> of importance in the business and social world.
> They live well, own cars, and several of the organizations own clubs
> or other headquarters for the transaction of their business and for
> their social relaxation.
> -----

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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