Dear Cecil: I recently changed professions, and though I refer to myself as a “dancer” or “showgirl,” many people use the term “go-go dancer.” No one seems to know how, why, or where “go-go” originated. What’s the story? Phoenix, Indianapolis
Glad to see you’re reading the Straight Dope, Phoenix; in your line of work it probably helps to keep your mind on the higher things. “Go-go” derives from the French a go go, in abundance, galore, a term that dates back to 1440 and may have derived from an older word agogue, merriment.
It found its way into our language by a route that’s circuitous even for English. According to John Ciardi’s Good Words to You, Compton MacKenzie published a novel in 1947 entitled Whisky Galore, about a freighter with 10,000 cases of whisky that is wrecked near a booze-starved island during World War II. The book was made into a movie of the same name in England (it was called Tight Little Island in its U.S. release) that when dubbed for the French became Whiskey a gogo, whiskey galore.
The movie inspired someone to open a bar in Paris (or was it Cannes? I can never remember these things) called “Whiskey a gogo,” which became one of the first discotheques. Later the idea and the name were both imported to New York. One day the manager of the New York Whiskey a Go-Go took it upon himself to hire scantily clad girls to demonstrate new dances, and the go-go dancer was born.
I imagine the term stuck in part because it seemed to mean something in English. Cecil recalls the pennant-winning Chicago White Sox of 1959, known as the “go-go” White Sox because of their basepath speed, and I assume you’re shaking it with equal vigor down there in Indianapolis.
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