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Where does the compound word "get-go", as in the phrase "right from the get-go" come from? None of the dictionary definitions I've seen try to explain it, and the Etymology Dictionary doesn't even have a reference to it.

The only thing I can think of is that it's short for "GETting GOing", but that doesn't explain its use as a noun.

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    Ken Greenwald at Wordwizard has written his usual scholarly article addressing this (with many references). – Edwin Ashworth Jul 4 '16 at 18:50
  • How does the getting going origin hypothesis fail to explain usage as a noun? The gerund functions as a noun. "I'm looking forward to his getting going". :) – Kaz Jul 4 '16 at 19:22
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    The full OED suggests this "U.S. colloq. (orig. in African-American usage)" may be derived from to get going (= to start). – FumbleFingers Jul 4 '16 at 20:00
  • I have a guess (a guess only - nothing but a thought): It could stand for the starting line in races ("Get set... Go!). In which case it would mean "from the very beginning". – user2962533 Jul 4 '16 at 22:35
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It appears to be an expression from American Black English whose earliest usage is from the middle '60s. It was widely used especially from the '80s in sport papers:

  • "From the git-go," (or "get-go," as it's slightly more commonly spelled), meaning "from the very beginning," appears to have originated in the vernacular of American Black English.
  • The earliest record of the phrase is from 1966, when it appeared in a story by Toni Cade Bambera, a writer, civil rights activist, and teacher, whose fiction is set in both the rural South and the urban North. How long the phrase may have been used in speech before 1966 is impossible to say. A much less common variant is "from the get," which was first recorded in 1971.

  • "From the get-go" is interchangeable with, and perhaps derived from, the older phrase "from the word go." Only in the past 10 years or so has "get-go" caught on widely with the general population. Its popularity presumably owes much to its catchy, alliterative quality. By the late 1980s "from the get-go" was popular in sports journalism; in the '90s it has come to be widely used and can be found in the edited prose of some of our most respected periodicals, although it retains an informal, conversational quality.

(desertnews.com)

The American Black English origin is confirmed also by the American English Idioms in the News which cites as an early usage the 1967 biography by Harlem writer Piri Thomas, "Down These Mean Streets".

  • I certainly heard the expression "from the git-go", in solidly white society in the Louisville, Kentucky area, ca 1967, and it seemed well-established at that time. (These were people who had no hint of AAV in their speech patterns.) I don't buy the claim that it so recently originated from AAV (if indeed it originated from AAV at all). – Hot Licks Jul 4 '16 at 19:28
  • @HotLicks - it is almost 50 years ago....memory may play fanciful tricks at times:) – user66974 Jul 4 '16 at 19:44
  • Except that I'm remembering the context where the term was used -- a job I had in 1967-68. And I never really knew anyone who used anything close to AAV until maybe 1985. – Hot Licks Jul 4 '16 at 19:52
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    @HotLicks - Is it possible you're misremembering "the word go" as "the git go", since it seems the two phrases were conflated? I'm going to wait for a bit to see if anyone else posts an answer (and please do, if you can find any support!), but Josh61's seems pretty solid. – Bobson Jul 4 '16 at 20:54
  • @Bobson - Possible, I suppose, but unlikely. "From the word 'go'" is a much less "notable" expression, and much less apt to engrave itself in my memory. – Hot Licks Jul 4 '16 at 21:08
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Dictionary coverage of 'get-go'

Robert Chapman, New Dictionary of American Slang (1986) has this entry for the expression:

from the git-go (or get-go) adv phr From the very beginning: It was his bust from the git-go—R Woodley/ Right from the get-go he came out smoking....It all went down in milliseconds—New York Times

To that entry, Robert Chapman & Barbara Kipfer, Dictionary of American Slang, third edition (1995) adds this note:

{perhaps based on from the word go, found by 1883}

J.E. Lighter, Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, volume 1 (1993) generally concurs with Chapman's assessment:

get-go n. Esp. Black E. the very beginning. Cf. colloq. from the word "go." [First three cited examples:] 1966 in T.C. Bambara Gorilla 42: I knew Dick and Jane was full of crap from the get-go. 1970 D[on] L. Lee We Walk 31: From the get-go she was down, realdown. 1971 Woodley Dealer 102: It was his bust from the git-go.

The earliest dictionary citation for the expression appears in Tom Dalzell & Terry Victor, The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2013):

get-go; git-go; gitty up noun the very start US, 1966 [First citations:] A clicker from the get-go, the sheet has become must reading for every deejay who sees it. —New Pittsburgh Courier, 19 May 1962Stewart L. Tubbs and Sylvia Moss, Human Communication, p. 121, 1974

Although the Courier reference in this entry is dated 1962, the entry claims 1966 as the earliest published instance of the term. The explanation may be that Dalzell & Victor were aware of the Courier instance only as a quotation in Tubbs & Moss's 1974 reference to it. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find the original of either of these cited sources.

Clarence Major, Dictionary of Afro-American Slang (1970) has this:

Get go (gitgo): the beginning.

But the same author provides a somewhat fuller entry in Juba to Jive: A Dictionary of African-American Slang (1994):

{From the} Get-go; git go n. (1950s–1960s) the beginning. (C[hristina and] R[ichard] M[ilner], B[lack] P[layers (1971)], p. 301.) Example: "The whole thing was wrong right from the get-go." S[outhern and] N[orthern] U[se].

And Geneva Smitherman, Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner (1994) offers this:

GIT-GO See JUMPSTREET ["The start; the beginning point of something"]. "When you settin up your own business it' the Git-Go that kills you."


Early examples of 'get-go' in print

The earliest use of get-go that Lighter cites is from Toni Cade Bambara's short-story collection Gorilla, My Love (1966)—but the short story in which it appears seems to have been published in 1966 as well. From Toni Cade, "The Hammer Man," in Negro Digest (February 1966):

I'll be damned if I ever knew one of them rosy-cheeked cops that smiled and helped you get to school without neither you or your little raggedy dog getting hit by a truck that had a smile on its face too. Not that I ever believed it. I knew Dick and Jane was full of crap from the get go, especially them cops.

The second Lighter citation is from Don L. Lee, We Walk the Way of the New World (1970). The particular poem where the term appears is called "Big Momma" and it is reproduced in Annette Shands, "Levavcy of L. Porary," in Black World (June 1972):

she was in a seriously-funny mood

& from the get-go she was down, realdown:

And the third Lighter citation appears in Richard Woodley, "Dealing With the Cops: More Conversation With a Coke Peddler," in New York Magazine (September 20, 1971):

"But how did you arrive at a price?" I asked. "Suppose that when you made your offer they [the police] said double it?"

"Then I can't do it. I don't have it. I say, 'Well, just put him in jail then, man, screw you all.' Now $150 apiece is better than nothing. 'Cause if this guy goes to jail he just goes to jail. It was his bust from the git-go. I'm going to try to prevent this, but I'm only trying s-o-o hard. So in this case I said, 'Hey, I got $300. You want it?'"

Dalzell & Victor's 1962 instance from the New Pittsburgh Courier finds independent corroboration from an August 12, 2005 post at listserv.linguistics.org by Benjamin Zimmer, who quotes two matches from 1962:

1962 New Pittsburgh Courier 19 May 19 (ProQuest) "Open Mike," the newest trade sheet and first one for the nation's tan deejays. A clicker from the get-go, the sheet has become must reading for every deejay who sees it, since it gives the little and big guys in the business a chance to see his name in print—which is something most of the other trade publications have neglected to do.

1962 Tri-State Defender (Memphis, Tenn.) 24 Nov. 5 (ProQuest) From the get-go, Adline Brown, I would have said Don't Build Your Hopes Up High, but you obviously threw a lucky punch.

Zimmer's research looks sound to me, although, again, I am unable to find copies of the original documents, not having access to the ProQuest search engine. Both the New Pittsburgh Courier and the Tri-State Defender are what Wikipedia describes as "African-American publications"—that is, newspapers that focus on stories of particular interest to Black readers in their geographical area.

The earliest match I could find in a Google Books searches for get-go, git-go, getgo, and gitgo is one Louise Moore, "Black Men vs. Black Women," in Liberator (August 1966) [combined snippets]:

I want to try to explain how we Black women got into this bind. The man’s society is a masculine one that builds itself around the male and his masculine organ. His penis is played up at every opportunity. We see it in the skyscrapers of the cities, the military missiles, the church steeples. He even has one God, one sex, in fact a whole holy trinity of one sex. Poor Mary was given the business. Here's a woman who has a child and can't explain how she got it. She took a screwing from the "get-go."


Conclusions

There is general agreement that the expression arose in Black U.S. English, and all of the the earliest published examples of the phrase that I checked (two from 1962, two from 1966, two from 1970, and one from 1971) seem to have been written or spoken by African American men or women.

Clarence Major's view that the expression goes back to the 1950s may well be correct, but as far as I can tell no one has pointed out examples from so early a date. Although Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary gives a first occurrence date of 1966 in its entry for get-go, the earliest confirmed examples in print appear to be from 1962.

Chapman & Kipfer's suggestion that "from the get-go" may be related to the older colloquial expression "from the word 'go'" is interesting. The latter expression first appears in simple Google Books search results in separate instances from N.A.R.D. Journal (May 10, 1917: "It is a straight, out-and-out business proposition from the word 'go'; and if druggists will handle it as such, they will have results.") and from Everyday Engineering Magazine (November 1917: "Mr. Sleeper Is an experimenter from the word 'go.'").

But Ken Greenwald of Wordwizard (cited in a comment by Edwin Ashworth above) notes a much earlier instance in A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, written by himself (1834):

In the evening I was introduced to her daughter, and I must confess, I was plaguey well pleased with her from the word go. She had a good countenance, and was very pretty, and I was full bent on making up an acquaintance with her.

In any event, the connection between the two expressions is not definite, although "from the word 'go'" has clearly been in use a lot longer.

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This is from a very commonly used expression from childhood in Canada during the 1950s & probably into the 1960s. It derived from "Get ready, get set, go!", and was used for a race of any kind. It was frequently used by teachers in classrooms for any sort of competition as well. Children shortened it to "Get, go!" Because most of the time, everybody had already started by the time you got to "Go!" Of course, the formal race was started with "On your mark...." - From one who was there.

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    An interesting personal observation. – Xanne Jun 13 '17 at 5:41
  • I agree with User 240582, and also believe that "Get-Go" or "Git-Go" are simply a contraction of the full expression "Get Ready, Get Set, GO" – Bov Mar 6 at 20:43

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