GI: "Government Issue"?

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Mon Dec 27 22:44:35 UTC 2004

Gosh, Wilson, if I had HDAS vol. 1 to hand, I could cite you chapter and verse. But I do have anecdotal evidence. The grandfather of a friend of mine served in France in the 42nd "Rainbow" Division inWorld War I. While still hale and hearty in the early 1970s, he expressed surprise that ANYBODY could believe that "G.I." (as an adjective) originated in World War II.  He said it stood for "government issue," and was used "all the time" in 1917-18. As in "G.I. shoes," "G.I. chow," etc.  (BTW, he knew only two stanzas of "Hinky Dinky Parley Vous.")

And documentation backs him up. I especially remember a cartoon published in 1918 in a unit newspaper - might have been "The La Treen Rumor" - that showed a skinny Santa arriving with a big bag full of cans marked "corned willy" (corned beef hash), "goldfish" (canned salmon), etc. The drawing bore the caption, "A G.I. Christmas."

Earliest cite of the noun ("a soldier") seems to be from West Point, late '30s.  Earlier editions of the West Point yearbook "The Howitzer" offer "G.I." adj. as "government issue."

The earliest sense of the abbreviation, however, in print in 1906 and in use through both World Wars, was "galvanized iron," applied especially to buckets and garbage cans.

You just ain't old enough, man !


Wilson Gray <wilson.gray at RCN.COM> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Wilson Gray
Subject: GI: "Government Issue"?

Is there any evidence of any kind, even anecdotal, to support the claim
that "GI" means or once meant "government issue"? During my time in the
military, I never once heard the term, "government issue," (and yes, I
*was* listening for it) used by anyone to designate or to refer to
anything. Terms actually used were "Army issue" or "military issue" or
"regular/regulation issue" and these were never abbreviated to "AI" or
"MI" or "RI." On the other hand, "GI" was universally used in a million
different contexts, e.g.

GI beans and GI gravy!
Gee, I wish I'd joined the Navy!
Sound off!

-Wilson Gray

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