Gig is short for 'engagement"? Wiki, pardon my skepticism

Wiki cite.

Is that true? What’s the Straight Dope?

There’s a cite to a dictionary that lists 1926 as the birth of gig right there in Wikipedia. And then three other cites just for good measure, one of which goes to the OED.

Why don’t you buy it?

Fascinating - I have used that word for decades and not considered the etymology. I have no reason to doubt the cite listed in Wikipedia.

My wife often teases me that, with my mid-life crisis rock band, she can’t believe that I still have a legitimate need to use the word “gig” in everyday conversation as an adult.


There is no cite for the assertion that “gig” is a contracted form of “engagement,” and indeed this does seem like a spurious folk etymology.

…further, there are closely-related meanings attested as far back as 1828.

There is a more plausible etymological connection to “gigolo”:

I would have bought it, but the OED says of “gig”

Pronunciation: /gɪg/
Etymology: **Origin unknown. **colloq.

An engagement for a musician or musicians playing jazz, dance-music, etc.; spec. a ‘one-night stand’; also, the place of such a performance.

Just agreeing with you. NO evidence.

Meh, I guess. Every cite points out that gig means “musical engagement” and gives a variety of birthdates for the word going back decades. In this case, I assumed “short for” meant the same as “shorthand replacement” as I’ve always used it that way.

That’s the problem. Whoever wrote that for Wikipedia shouldn’t have said “short for” as it makes a casual reader think–“comes from.” It doesn’t.

A descriptivist! Get him!


I think it goes back much further. Play a Gigue. (a song that one can dance a Gigue to)

That’s always been my understanding of the great grandfather of the term.

I was born a descriptivist and I’ll die a descriptivist.

Just to be clear–you’re not seriously suggesting that the term “gig” to (at the time–1926) mean a “musical engagement” comes from a term used 200 years before?

Gigue turned to Jig turned to gig.

Yes, I’m suggesting that. Actually I was told that ages ago when I was a music major in college. (though not as an official part of a course)

Probably as good as wiki

I know people who use the word ‘gig’ to describe a method of fishing (spear fishing) and also meaning to tease. I was just gigging you.

The operational word here is “die.” :slight_smile:


I don’t have a source, but as I was reading about the origin of the word ‘jazz’ which, apparently had a sexual origin before it applied to music, I found that that the word ‘gig’ or ‘gigi’ was slang for vagina before it was used to mean a musical engagement.

Just agreeing with you. I think it’s a question of re-entry - ‘jig’ certainly came from ‘gigue’ and dates back to 17th century. ‘Gig’, as a mis-pronunciation with the hard ‘g’, makes perfect sense as coming from ‘gigue’ - certainly more sense than a contraction of ‘engagement.’

The term may have been used 200 years before, but the music was still courante.

Exactly. How did “gage” with a j and long a become “gig” with a g and short i in less than forty years? Do not seem likely.

Well not really because the British jig preceded the French and German gigue by the best part of a century. However Barbara Freitag in her book Sheela-Na -Gigs: Unravelling an Enigma agrees (possibly) with your theory.