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As a Brit, I've always thought to "gee things up" (often followed by "a bit") was a relatively well-known Americanism - probably because I assume most figurative usages relating to horses come from the great American cowboy tradition.

In my usage, to "gee things up" always means to get things moving (normally figuratively, as of say action to deal with some problem). But I also hear/use "gee him up" with the sense of to tease or provoke, similar to rattle his cage or wind him up.

But checking gee things up in Google Books I found only 15 results, and to my admittedly untrained eye, they seem to be mostly British. Is the expression (and the tease/annoy meaning) familiar to Americans?

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Answering as a 40-yr old American, I can say that no, this usage is not familiar to me.

It does remind me of a similar expression, "gee-yup", shortened from "giddy up" or "giddyap", an expression used by cowboys to command the horse to begin to move, or to move faster.

In this sense, it is most familiar to me as an expression used by parents to goad children, such as "Come on, gee-yup, or you'll be late for school." (Frequently has the opposite of the desired effect.)

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Never heard of it either. –  horatio Dec 23 '11 at 16:31
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I've certainly heard of "gee-yup" or "gee up", but I never thought of it as a transitive verb. –  Peter Shor Dec 23 '11 at 17:18
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I believe that gee up is short for ginger up, meaning to cause a horse to run round in a lively manner by shoving ginger up its fundament, and by extension encouraging a person to behave in a lively manner, (one hopes by other means).

If that is the case, then according to this source here, the usage was originally British.

But it goes on to mention that the phrase disappeared from general usage for a long time (a shortage of ginger, perhaps?), to reappear in America in the 1890s. It speculates that the reappearance may have been related to gin up, as Tom Au says, derived from engine.

More here, including rather more than you want to know about feaguing up horses.

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That's interesting, and has the ring of truth to me. I'm familiar with ginger up as an uncommon (dated?) figurative alternative to spice up. And I'm a great believer that in cases like this, it's perfectly possible for a usage to (re-)acquire currency through actual or perceived relation to some other "origin". –  FumbleFingers Dec 23 '11 at 17:16
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The (not so common) American usage is to "GIN things up." It is a reference to "engine."

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I never heard that one. I'm guessing gin him up, if it exists at all, would only ever mean make him get a move on, never mean tease him. –  FumbleFingers Dec 23 '11 at 17:02
    
@FumbleFingers:To "gin things up" is to "stir things up." I believe that it could have either meaning. –  Tom Au Dec 23 '11 at 17:30
    
If Brian's ginger origin is a factor that would increase the likelihood. There's also to ride him, which equates to the "tease" sense of gee him up. And of course knock knock/down ginger, the children's game is basically teasing. Perhaps all these expression "feed" off each other in subtle ways. –  FumbleFingers Dec 23 '11 at 17:43
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This American has never heard "gin things up" either. –  Monica Cellio Dec 23 '11 at 18:54
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