GI: "Government Issue"?

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Thu Dec 30 03:02:12 UTC 2004

On Wed, 29 Dec 2004 17:04:48 EST, James A. Landau <JJJRLandau at AOL.COM> wrote:

>I'm prepared to believe that "G.I." originally meant "Galvanized Iron"
>based on the following:  "G.I. can" (a 40-gallon bucket or whatever) -->
>"G.I. party" (use such a G.I. can while scrubbing the floor) --> "G. I.
>[anything else unpleasant]" --> "G. I. [anything to do with soldiers]",
>with "Government Issue" being a folk etymology.
>That is, "G. I. party" (still in use when I was in the Army 1969-1971) was
>the phrase from which all the other uses of "G.I." came.

Is there any evidence for this?  I thought the "Government Issue"
reinterpretation dates back to 1917, with various cites from the '30s
showing that it had gained acceptance pre-WWII.  The earliest cites that I
see on the newspaper databases for "G.I. party" in the "cleanup" sense are
from WWII (~1943).

I don't see any problem with the idea that "G.I." developed on two
separate tracks -- one from "G.I. can" to "G.I. party", and another from
the "Government Issue" reinterpretation to the generic sense of "G.I."

--Ben Zimmer

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