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

Geoffrey Nunberg nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU
Sun Oct 25 23:32:28 UTC 2015


Hmm. The 1908 cite, used among vaudeville performers, is a clear antecedent for the musical engagement use. I don’t think the military sense (along with the verbal form “to be gigged”)—which Norman Mailer discusses in another context—could be the direct ancestor of Kerouac’s use, which seems to be drawn from the musicians’ use of the word. (Kerouac uses ‘gig’ elsewhere to describe a musician’s engagement, and his own poetry readings with jazz accompaniment.) 
The 1952 usage in the Baltimore Afro-American is clearly related to Kerouac’s, the difference being that in the Kerouac sense, like the musicians’ sense, a gig was NOT a steady job. (Unless Matthews got it wrong.) 

Geoff
> 
> Consider 1908 in DAS, 2a.  Vaudeville context.
> 
> Second cite, "ca1953."
> 
> JL
> 
> On Sun, Oct 25, 2015 at 4:03 PM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com <http://listserv.linguistlist.org/mailman/listinfo/ads-l>> wrote:
> 
> > ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> > -----------------------
> > Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU <http://listserv.linguistlist.org/mailman/listinfo/ads-l>>
> > Poster:       Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM <http://listserv.linguistlist.org/mailman/listinfo/ads-l>>
> > Subject:      Re: 'gig' = (non-show-business) engagement, 1952
> >
> > -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >
> > 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.
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------
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> >
> 
> 
> 
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