The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.091 Tuesday, 6 March 2012
Date: March 5, 2012 10:58:34 PM EST
Subject: Re: the word “gig.”
Abigail Quart asks an interesting question: what does it mean?
The only logical progression I can find involves a sense of lightness, something not that serious, something less than heavy.
“Gig” may be a contraction of “whirligig.”
The word was adopted by jazz musicians decades ago to indicate an engagement to play that is not permanent. If the engagement was the same night every week, the musician would describe it as a “regular gig.” It wouldn’t be used to describe employment with a symphony orchestra.
One of the earlier definitions of the word is a “light carriage pulled by one horse.” A “gig” is also a top which, of course, balances delicately as it spins.
I doubt there is much logic in the evolution of the word. Jazz musicians adopted language meant to be incomprehensible to outsiders. Shakespeare may have bent the word for his own use.
Louis W. Thompson