What does the G in G-string stand for?

(from this classic, referred to in this week’s e-mail)

The master concludes that a discriminating reader would dismiss the violin string explanation. It’s the one that makes the most sense to me. The term “G-string” referring to the violin string has been presumeably around since there have been violins. It’s an obvious comparison, “My that lady’s garment is as thin as a G-string.” I mean, it worked for fiddlehead greens, right?

It seems to me prairie expletives and girdles are fiddlesticks.

I always assumed it stood for Garter or Groin.

Folk etymology is pretty much defined by people thinking of an origin for a word or phrase and saying, hey, that’s sounds good to me. And then they’re done. They don’t have to do any research, don’t have to check whether anybody ever used it that way, don’t have to refute any other claims. That’s why nobody takes it seriously.

When you do check, you find that girdle string - usually two words, not one - does exist as a phrase. In fact, it refers to something that is an exact and obvious predecessor to a g-string.

Google books has numerous examples of girdle string. Check The northern tribes of central Australia By Sir Baldwin Spencer.

The Mara tribe man wears pubic tassels that dangle from a girdle string. A picture is given. Women wear an apron that is slightly wider.

Waist bands, thin strings referred to as girdles, are found in numerous cultures. Material culture depicted in Vijayanagara temples By K. Reddeppa. That’s exactly what the first reference to a geestring Cecil found was.

It’s quite old, too. Here’s a reference from 1846. The living age …, Volume 9 By Eliakim Littell, Robert S. Littell, Making of America Project from a section titled “Elephant Shooting in Ceylon.”

I don’t find geestring earlier than the John Hanson Beadle book Cecil referred to (though the date is given as 1877). G string is contemporary.

Catholic world, Volume 35 By Paulist Fathers, 1882

That’s exactly the same as the girdle-string above.

For an etymology, it would seem almost certain that g string or gee string came from girdle string. No references of any kind provide any evidence that it came from a g-string on a violin or other other musical instrument. Nor are there any references to indicate its origin in garter or groin.

You don’t look at a word and imagine what it could derive from. You have to patiently sift through all the actual references in the writing that survive to tease out its meaning. Folk etymology is looking at a blurred dot on a photo and concluding that it must be an alien ship.

Ha! The Master is pleased, but not surprised, to discover that his speculation regarding girdlestring has found support through the miracle of Google books. We’ll amend the column.

I’d wait until Samclem or one of the other experts confirms this. I just did a quick Google Books search.

Knowing how to look and having the patience to do a complete job are unfortunately two different things.

Your desire for thoroughness is commendable. However, the fact that instances of “girdle string,” or approximations thereof, have come to light is significant in itself. Needless to say, I shall, in apprising the Master of this fact, attempt to restrain my boyish enthusiasm.

I am most pleased to have my ignorance fought with such skill! Your post is oll korrect in my books!

This looks promising. John Baker started a thread about this over at the American Dialect Society Mailing List. I have no doubt Exapno(and Cecil) are correct.

Do we ever doubt that Cecil is correct? :cool:

Meaning, covering one’s genitalia with a string and strip of cloth.

I always thought it came from the word “Gee” as in “Gee, I wish that yonder lady would undo that string and let us partake the treasures that are underneath.” :smiley:

I have to agree. Cecil has done it again. Seems to be from the word girdle string.

The American Dialect Society discussion has not resulted in a consensus as to the term’s etymology. Although “girdle string” is found, there are several considerations that undercut it as the likely origin, including the term’s rarity, the fact that it generally was applied to uses in Old World cultures while the earliest examples of “G-string” refer to American Indians, and the lack of any compelling reason for the term to be abbreviated, since “girdle” does not seem to have been a subject of taboo avoidance. On the other hand, the meaning of “girdle string” does seem to be substantially the same as “G-string,” and there are no more compelling explanations of the origin, so Exapno Mapcase’s work does seem to lend support for an etymology that is at least as plausible as any other under consideration and arguably is the leading case.

jbaker said:

How about the standard reason things are abbriviated - it is simpler, easier, and shorter?

I know if I had to write “girdle-string” over and over I’d be looking for a way to abbreviate it. “G-string” would be an obvious candidate. I can’t see any reason why people wouldn’t do the same for spoken descriptions.

Yes, the theory that “G-string” derives from “girdle string” is dependent on these standard reasons for abbreviation, and they cannot be ruled out. Indeed, this proposed origin seems to be at least as strong as any other under consideration. However, “girdle string” does not seem to have been written “over and over,” and we are not aware of any other reasons to consider abbreviation particularly likely, so there is no consensus that this explanation is so strong as to displace others.

The G in G-man stands for Government; similarly I assume the G in G-string stands for genitalia or some variation of that word – ie a string to which is attached a strip of cloth which covers the G

Your assumption has nothing to back it up, whereas we have found references to “girdle strings” from that time period.

jbaker said:

I did say that the same motivations for abbreviating a written phrase apply to a spoken phrase as well, and “gee-string” is easer to say than “girdle string”.

I have quite recently been shopping for lingerie that my wife will donn for our mutual benefit. The one word that keeps coming up in the panty section is “open-gussett”. I would like to offer two new possibilities that I have not yet seen in this thread.
Perhaps the G represents gussett.
The following definition is given by a Google search; “a piece of material sewn into a garment to strengthen or enlarge a part of it, such as the collar of a shirt or the crotch of an undergarment.” The Urban dictionary defines it as; “part of a womans underwear, which sits just below her pussy.” This would seem counter intuitive to the actual design of the G- string garment, however, the English language is fraught with misinterpretations of words with quizzically opposite meanings.

The other possibility would be that the G in G-string may represent the same word that the g in G-spot represents. When doing a Google search, the g in G- spot represents Gräfenberg (for German gynecologist Ernst Gräfenberg) who is credited with its discovery while studying female urethral stimulation in the 1940’s.

Here are my ratings in the order of what seems most likely to me:

  1. girdle
  2. Gräfenberg
  3. gussett
  4. garter
  5. 'gina (short for vagina)
  6. groin
  7. capital G, as it relates to the shape of the garment and how it fits the female anatomy.

Bringing this zombie back up is a good time to ask samclem if there’s been any further discussion of the etymology by the experts?

My son’s learning of the guitar and the inevitable breakage … “Hey, dad, next time you go shopping could you pick me up a “G” string” … he’s still mad at me over that little incident …