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

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Sun Oct 25 23:26:37 UTC 2015

[Re-sending without those messy smart quotes.]

Thanks, Jon. I mentioned the 1908 cite in my WSJ column:

In the early 20th century, "gig" developed more workaday connotations.
One early hint came in Helen Green's 1908 book "The Maison de Shine:
More Stories of the Actors' Boarding House." When a boarder explained
that he was the "champion paper tearer of the West," he was asked,
"What kind o' gig is that?" His "gig" was "tearing paper into odd
designs" for display in shop windows.

The cite dated "ca1953" is from _The Fantastic Lodge_, the
posthumously published diary of "Janet Clark," a drug addict. Some

"Janet Clark" (pseud.), Helen MacGill Hughes, ed., _The Fantastic
Lodge: The Autobiography of a Girl Drug Addict_ (1961, 1964)
I had been working at this record store where they did not have a cash
register, poor fools, and I accumulated quite a sum of money. I'd take
five to ten dollars a day and make it up one way or another; very
complicated system. I'm an excellent hypper [cheater]. I wish I had
that gig back again though, man! Oh, it was crazy, really. I made
something like one hundred and fifty dollars a week while I was
working there and I was only getting paid about fifty, not to mention
my lunch money and all the rest of it that came out of there, too.
(pp. 94-5 of 1964 edition)

1964 edition in snippet view:
More info on "Janet":

On Sun, Oct 25, 2015 at 6:21 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> Consider 1908 in DAS, 2a.  Vaudeville context.
> Second cite, "ca1953."
> On Sun, Oct 25, 2015 at 4:03 PM, Ben Zimmer wrote:
>> 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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