Printable Version
Pronunciation: gig Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A light two-wheeled carriage drawn by a horse or other animal. 2. Any job, especially a booking for a musical show-business group. 3. A spear with a forked head bearing several barbed spikes, used for floundering or frogging.

Notes: There are no extensions of this word; it is a true lexical orphan in the senses we are covering today. It may be used as a verb in the third sense above, as 'to gig a flounder'.

In Play: The second sense above is the most common today: "In that state the job of legislator was a part-time gig with a correlate salary." However, when we hear this word, we normally associate it with show business: "Rusty Horne played a couple of gigs with the original Catbird Combo in his youth."

Word History: Today's Good Word is one of those words surrounded by similar words that do not constitute a clear trail. Middle English contained a word ghyg which meant "spinning top", used in whyrleghyg, currently whirligig. German has a related word Geige "fiddle". Now, Geige, we know, shares a source with Old French gigue "fiddle". In Modern French this word means "jig", suggesting a connection between a musical instrument and the kind of music associated with it. The connecting sense might be "rapid or whirling motion", which works for the first current meaning, a carriage with rapidly whirling wheels. Gig once meant "fun, a good time", which may have developed from "rapid or whirling motion". This sense may have evolved to "a musical job" and from there to "any job". See? All sorts of suggestive evidence, but no clear trail. (We are grateful to George Kovac for recommending today's polysemous Good Word with mysterious origins.)

Dr. Goodword,

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