[Ads-l] 'gig' = (non-show-business) engagement, 1952

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Sun Oct 25 20:03:00 UTC 2015

>From my "gig" files, another 1952 example of extended use:

Baltimore Afro-American, Apr. 19, 1952, (Afro Magazine Section) p. 9, col. 2
"Mainstream" by Ralph Matthews, Jr.
I have jotted down some other phrases currently in use among
Baltimore's "hip" set (you aren't "hip" if you say hep) for students
of the American language. ...
A girl is no longer a "broad" but "Bone." You don't wear clothes, you
wear "fronts." A steady job is a "gig" or "hame," when you buy
something you "cop" and if you don't have money you're "lootless" or
"on the shorts."

And here's a playful extension from Lionel Hampton:

Pittsburgh Courier, Mar. 6, 1954, p. 19, col. 1
"Show Biz Buzzes" by Lionel Hampton
Just one year ago this column made its first "gig," and it sure did
knock me out to see it in actual print.

On Sun, Oct 25, 2015 at 2:09 PM, Geoffrey Nunberg wrote:
> The OED gives a 1964 cite from J.H. Clarke's Harlem as the
> earliest instance of the "also transf. and attrib." use of 'gig'
> ("An engagement for a musician or musicians playing jazz,
> dance-music, etc.; spec. a 'one-night stand'). "Pa-knockin'
> hisself out on a mail-handler gig at the Post Office where
> the pay is so lousy he's gotta work a part-time gig." That
> cite should really be 1963, but there's a much earlier
> instance in Kerouac's piece  "The Railroad Earth," written
> in 1952-53 but published in the collection The Lonesome
> Traveler, 1960. Kerouac describes working as a railroad
> brakeman in San Jose:
> It's the chief dispatcher calling from 4th and Townsend in
> the Sad Frisco, "Keroowayyy? It's deadhead on 112 to
> San Jose for a drag east with Conductor Degnan got that?"
> ..."All you do is get ups and you already done made how
> many dollars? Anyways in your sleep and put on your gig
> clothes and cut out and take a little bus and go down to
> the San Jose yard office down by the aiprort and the
> engines are being lined up and numbered out there...
> You go down and find your conductor who'll just be some
> old baggy-pants circus comedian with a turned-up hat brim...
> This is the sense that figures now in "the gig economy" etc.,
> which Ben discussed in his WSJ piece. It corroborates my
> sense that this was one of the musicians' terms brought
> into the mainstream by the hipsters and beats, along with
> 'riff', 'cool', and my favorite, the late, lamented "Solid!"
> Geoff
> PS. "The Sad Frisco" seems to be Kerouac's own - it
> appears in The Subterraneans, too.

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

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