Dear Cecil: What does the G in G-string stand for? Is it related to the G in G-men (the FBI), or should that be gee!-string? The origin of this name isn’t the local common knowledge I expected. Suzanne S., Baltimore
Modern lexicography, believe it or not, is at a loss to account for the origin of the term G-string (which actually is often spelled geestring). One writer offers the thesis that a G-string resembles a capital G in shape — clearly the work of a desperate mind.
The earliest known reference to G-string is in J.H. Beadle’s Western Wilds (1878): “Around each boy’s waist is the tight ‘geestring,’ from which a single strip of cloth runs between the limbs from front to back.” From this we see that G-string originally referred only to the thong around the waist, which is precisely what a girdle was in its earliest form. Thus G-string may be an abbreviation of “girdlestring,” the only difficulty being that no such word has come to light.
Alternatively, we note that “string” was a common 19th-century synonym for “whip,” which was of the same rawhide construction as the aforementioned prairie G-string, and that “gee” is an expletive frequently employed to accelerate one’s horse. A “geestring” may thus have been a pioneer horsewhip later discovered to be useful in holding up one’s pants, or the equivalent thereof. Finally, and rather unimaginatively, we may observe that a G-string (the string part, that is) bears a superficial likeness to the fiddle string of similar designation. However, this explanation doesn’t appeal to me, and I trust the discriminating reader will say it pretty much eats as well.
Through the magic of Google, Exapno Mapcase of the Straight Dope Message Board has turned up an instance of “girdlestring” in Littell’s Living Age, Vol. IX, 1846: “Their arms were a small hatchet, stuck in their girdle-string.” While that hardly proves G-string is an abbreviation of girdlestring, the fact that the latter word existed and means the same as G-string supports my conjecture that the shorter term derived from the longer. (Added Sept. 2, 2010)
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