GI: "Government Issue"?

Wilson Gray wilson.gray at RCN.COM
Thu Dec 30 06:03:41 UTC 2004

On Dec 29, 2004, at 5:04 PM, James A. Landau wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "James A. Landau" <JJJRLandau at AOL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: GI: "Government Issue"?
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --------
> In a message dated > Tue, 28 Dec 2004 18:21:43 -0500,   Wilson Gray <
>> wilson.gray at RCN.COM> grumbled:
>> =20
>> On Dec 27, 2004, at 5:44 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>> =20
>>> Earliest cite of the noun ["G.I."] ("a soldier") seems to be from
>>> West=20
>> 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.
>> =20
>> I guess that the phrase, "government issue," had simply died out by my
>> day, though "G.I. can" still lives or, perhaps, lived, in my day. But
>> it was applied only to 40-gallon-sized, galvanized-iron garbage cans.
>> And "S.O.P." was sometimes used instead of "G.I." in some instances,
>> e.g. "that's not G.I./S.O.P." with respect to a locker that wouldn't
>> pass inspection. But even a person who said "... not S.O.P." would
>> advise, "You'd better G.I. that/get that G.I.'d."
> I'm prepared to believe that "G.I." originally meant "Galvanized Iron"
> based=
> =20
> on the following:  "G.I. can" (a 40-gallon bucket or whatever) -->
> "G.I.=20
> party" (use such a G.I. can while scrubbing the floor) --> "G. I.
> [anything=20=
> else=20
> unpleasant]" --> "G. I. [anything to do with soldiers]", with
> "Government Is=
> sue"=20
> being a folk etymology.
> That is, "G. I. party" (still in use when I was in the Army 1969-1971)
> was=20
> the phrase from which all the other uses of "G.I." came. =20
> A very minor piece of negative evidence:  there does not seem to have
> been a=
> =20
> World War I expression "doughboy party" meaning a session of scrubbing
> floor=
> s,=20
> showing that the "G.I." of "G. I. party" probably came from something
> other=20
> than a  pre-existing nickname for soldiers.
> Aside---in the Civil War the Union Army accepted ex-Confederate
> soldiers for=
> =20
> service in the West (not against the Confederacy,. of course).  These
> men we=
> re=20
> known as "galvanized Yankees" because their uniforms had changed
> color, just=
> =20
> as iron changes color when it is galvanized.  I seriously doubt this
> had=20
> anything to do with "G.I.".
>> BTW, there was also a kind of shapeless, soft, cloth cap, such as the
>> marines wear in starched form, issued to us, but which we were
>> forbidden to wear, unless we were pulling some labor-intensive duty
>> like K.P. This cap was called a "[kei pi]" cap. Naturally, I assumed
>> that this was "K.P. cap." But then, I flashed on the possibility that
>> the name of this was actually   "_k=E9pi_ cap." Any thoughts?
> I'm fairly sure this indeed was the French word "kepi" (acute accent
> on the=20
> "e") and therefore "kepi cap" is redundant, like "ATM machine".  The
> US Army=
> =20
> has been using kepis off and on since Civil War days, and note that
> MWCD11 g=
> ives=20
> a date of "1861" for "kepi" in English.  The "forage cap" which was
> the most=
> =20
> common headgear for Union infantry was a modified kepi. =20
>    You word "shapeless" is misleading.  The US Army in the Korean war
> era ha=
> d=20
> a form of kepi as part of the fatigue uniform (in World War II the US
> Army=20
> wore its "Class A" dress uniforms into battle---remember Patton giving
> order=
> s=20
> that soldiers were required to wear their neckties on the
> battlefield?)  Thi=
> s=20
> cap was not "shapeless", rather it was almost cylindrical for a couple
> of in=
> ches=20
> before reaching a flat top (although the front of the cap slopes
> inward, lik=
> e=20
> on the Civil War forage cap but less drastically).  I have in front of
> me a=20
> book about the TV show M*A*S*H, which shows numerous examples of this
> kepi.=20=
> =20
> This is also the cap that Fidel Castro always wears.
> Sometime before the Vietnam War the US Army switched from the kepi to
> the=20
> baseball cap, which means that Fidel is wearing an out-of-date piece
> of head=
> gear.=20
>  Doesn't seem to bother him.  Somewhere in Cuba there must be a tailor
> shop=20
> which produces obsolete US Army clothing for Cuba's leadership.
> The cap traditionally worn by the French Foreign Legion is a kepi, but
> much=20
> stiffer than the old US Army version, much closer to being a cylinder,
> and w=
> ith=20
> a piece of linen added at the back of the neck to protect against
> sunstroke.
> Quick:  what is the uniform of the honor guard of the French Foreign
> Legion?
> Two other pieces of headgear lore:
> The campaign hat, commonly called the "Smokey the Bear hat", was made
> the=20
> characteristic headgear of State Police troopers by H. Norman
> Schwartzkopf.=20=
>  The=20
> Gulf War general?  No, his father, who among other accomplishments was
> the=20
> founder of the New Jersey State Police (who, sadly, have abandoned the
> campa=
> ign=20
> hat).
> The button on the top of a baseball cap is not there for decoration.
> It has=
> =20
> a practical purpose.  It is to provide a place to stash your chewing
> gum.
>      - James A. Landau=20

Close, but no cigar, Jim. The cap which we were issued and which we
were forbidden to wear except under certain, well-defined conditions
really *was* shapeless and was, therefore, not G.I. That was the reason
for forbidding the wearing of this cap and the reason why marines
starch?/starched their version of it. We were required to _buy_ a cap
that looked a lot more like the classic kepi and whose cylindrical
shape was maintained with the help of a spring in the crown. This is
the cap that you have in mind. Such caps were for sale at PX's on post
and at Army-Navy stores off post. Recruits had to pay for theirs out of
their "flying five." Castro's version looks like a cheap, second-rate
rip-off of the American original. Soldiers who weren't "gung-ho" or
"STRAC" (by my day, the unhip had already begun to overcorrect these
terms to "gun-ho" and "strike") or otherwise into being a "sharp
soldier" would pull out the spring and discard it and then crumple the
cap and otherwise fuck it up till it looked almost as bad as the "K.P.
cap." But no one was ever gigged for not keeping his store-bought cap -
there was no special name for it - in G.I. condition.

-Wilson Gray

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