"Gen up"

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Tue Mar 6 10:26:25 UTC 2001

>Derives from "engine", but the antique sense of a device employing animals to
>provide power to a rotating shaft: "Gin up the horses, Harry, and we'll get

"Gen up" = "bone up"/"book up"/"study up" -- mostly British, probably from
British military "general information" -- is given (e.g.) by Partridge.
This doesn't seem to be related to "gin up" as in "gin up support", etc.

"Gin up" as in "gin up
support/interest/opposition/ideas/courage/clients/votes/etc." seems to be
similar to "rustle up", "dig up", "summon up", etc. There are many current
examples in the news. In many cases this is similar in sense to "generate",
which makes one wonder whether it is derived from this verb or conflated
with it.

The above example of "gin up the horses" = "attach the horses to the gin"
sounds reasonable, but I can't find an example anywhere. "Gin up" could
also mean "entrap", e.g., with a snare or caltrop ... also from "engine" I
think ... again I don't have an example. These don't seem related to the
current news usage. But horses can be "ginned up" in another fashion: see

The Cassell dictionary of slang gives "gin up" (US, from 1970's) = "stir
up"/"enliven"/"make ready". This is probably the same as the expression in
question, although the examples I find on the Web don't exactly justify the
Cassell definitions. That is, as I read most of the pertinent news items,
e.g., "gin up support" seems to mean "find support" or "generate support"
rather than "excite support" or "enliven support", although in some cases
either could fit ... and in many I doubt the writer knows exactly what he's
trying to say (he just wants to use a cute/quaint expression). The Cassell
book derives this "gin up" from "gin" = "beat"/"fight"/"have sex"; I find
this derivation dubious.

Chapman gives "gin up" (by 1887) = "enliven"/"make more exciting", equated
to "jazz up". The examples given seem to be modern. The first, with "gin up
support", might fit either "excite" or "find", but the second, with
"numbers of voters ginned up", would support "find"/"generate" over
"excite" as discussed above; neither fits "jazz up" very well. I think two
senses are being confused here, and probably in the Cassell book too.

"Gin up" = "thrash"/"kill"/etc. probably < "engine"/"cotton gin".

There is also "gin up" = "make drunk with gin", and also (Partridge) "get
in the mood for a party by drinking gin".

The "gin up" = "enliven" given with an early date by Chapman probably is
from the earlier "ginger up" = "enliven"/"put some ginger [i.e., pep]
into". This apparently is derived from the practice of increasing a horse's
spirit/pep by inserting ginger into its anus, the expression used by the
1840's (Partridge, Chapman). (Probably, "[full of] ginger" = "[full of]
pep/spirit/jasm" used in describing a person is from the same origin.)

My supposition is that the current news use of "gin up" might be based on a
conflation of something like "gen[erate]" with "gin up" = "excite" <
"ginger up" ... probably with influence from such expressions as "gather
up", "rustle up", "scrounge up", "scrape up". I would speculate that
someone (in recent decades) used something like "gin up support" =
"stimulate support" with the old-fashioned "gin up" ("ginger up"
derivative), and that subsequent users -- perhaps taking this to be an
abbreviation of "generate" (or possibly "engineer" [verb]) -- used "gin up"
as if it were synonymous with "gather", "generate", "organize", as well as

-- Doug Wilson

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