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Does anyone know the origin of the term "g-string" (clothing)? All of the dictionaries I've looked at are uncertain about the origin of the word. I even tried googling for the answer, but to no avail.

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Opinions about the origin vary, which is a sign that no one really knows the answer. Here are some discussions of the quustion in various reference works.

From Mitford Mathews, A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles (1951):

gee string, a breechclout or breech-cloth. Also G-string. [Cited occurrences:] 1878 BEADLE Western Wilds 249 Around each boy's waist is the tight geestring from which a single strip of cloth runs between the limbs from front to back. 1891 Harper's Mag[azine] Dec. 36/2 Some of the boys wore only 'G-strings' (as for some reason the breech-clout is commonly called on the prairie). 1948 Time 5 April 12/3 The American Airlines' lost & found department was looking interestedly for whatever party had lost a case of beer, an automatic back-scratcher, three burlesque-type G-strings, a strait jacket.

From Don Wilmeth, The Language of American Popular Entertainment: A Glossary of Argot, Slang and Terminology (1981):

G-string: A thin strip of cloth passed between the legs of a stripteasrs and supported by a waist cord or band. Ann Corio claims that the term was originated by early striptease artist Carrie Finnell. Presumably, when she tossed the apparatus on her dressing table one night it fell in the shape of a "G." see CHICAGO G-STRING [the entry for which reads "An especially revealing type of G-string used by strippers which is sewn to an elastic band in a manner that allows "the bauble to fly" and reveal pudendum underneath."]

From Robert Chapman, New Dictionary of American Slang (1986):

gee string or G-string n phr or n fr middle 1800s A breech-cloth, or brief covering for the genitals, worn especially by striptease dancers: Thus the G-string became an integral part of a stripper's apparatus —Toronto Life {origin unknown}

From Barbara Kipfer & Robert Chapman, Dictionary of American Slang, fourth edition (2005):

G-string or gee string n phr or n A breechcloth, or brief covering for the genitals, worn esp by striptease dancers [citation omitted] {1878+; origin unknown; the dated use refers to Plains Indian use of a loincloth; the stripper sense is found in the 1930s}

From Robert Hendrickson, The QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, fourth edition (2008):

G-string Stripteasers, who sometimes call this a "gadget," aren't responsible for the word. G-string is an Americanism first used to describe an Indian's loin cloth or breechclout in the 19th century. It could be that some fiddler in the West compared the heaviest of violin strings, the G string, to the length of sinew or gut the Indians tied around their waists to hold up their breechclouts. But even the heavies of violin strings wouldn't really do the job. Perhaps the g i is just a euphemistic shortening of "groin," an indecent word at the time. The burlesque G-string is of course far smaller than the Indian variety and must have seemed even skimpier a century ago, considering the Brunhildean builds of yesterday's ecdysiasts. One burlesque company of the day proudly advertised "two tons of women" and had only 20 strippers.

So your question about the origin of G-string might actually be separated into three distinct questions: (1) why did U.S. settlers on the Great Plains in the 1870s call the rawhide band used to hold a Native American's loincloth in place a "geestring"? (2) why did U.S. dance-art enthusiasts call the genital covering used by striptease artists a G-string? (3) what connection is there between the nineteenth-century "gee string" and the 1930s–present "G-string"?

I will run some database searches into those questions and add to this answer if I find anything interesting.


On the transition from 'geestring' to G-string'

With regard to the question of the connection between geestring and G-string, it is noteworthy that G string appears as early as 1881 as spelling variant for geestring. From "Society Report," in the [Globe City] Arizona Silver Belt (July 16, 1881):

Mrs. Natch-il-a-tilly was magnificently attired with a g string around her waist with some suggestions of faded magnificence suspended therefrom.

As for the transition between geestring as a breechclout and G-string as striptease accoutrement, a newspaper instance of "gee string" from 1921 may provide a missing link. From "Fringe Sewed on Beach Queens Who Lack Conscience," in the [Coronado, California] Strand (August 20, 1921):

Chicago.—Censors at the bathing beaches in Chicago, just now densely populated with gay crowds have solved the problem of dealing with girls who are a trifle shy on clothes. Last year the matter was left to the conscience of the bathers, but it was discovered that some of them had no conscience at all, or one composed of gutta porcha, so something had to be done about it.

Some of the beach queens were getting don to the fig leaf proposition and fig leaves this season are quite small. Consequently there was a grand display of legs and arms and spinal columns and shoulders and patella and torsos, to say the least.

The police censors, mean and women, who patrol the beach have solved the problem in a delicate way. The women police go armed with a needle and thread and when a girl is discovered tastily clad in a gee string and a light sprinkling of tan, the coppess takes her to one side and sews on fringe.

An Elephind search also yields three matches for the odd expression "bust a G string"(one each from Australia, California, and Virginia) and two for "broke a G string" (from Colorado and Illinois)—all between 1907 and 1937. The earliest of these appears in Marion Hill, "The Busiest Dollar," in the Los Angeles [California] Herald (February 24, 1907):

"Jerrie said," continued Dazalia, still droning unctuously," as how she an' her folks 'd have to pass the meetin' house on their way to the deppo near by, an' as how shed leave 'em a moment an' attend to her duty here; leastwise, that's not what she said. Jerrie said as how 'she'd bust a G string an' fly the coop to roost on the gospel perch an' cackle a spell.'"

And the last of them is from "Those Shorts," in the [Kilgoorlie, Western Australia] Western Argus (July 13, 1937):

Some of our local girl tennis stars favour shorts of the most abbreviated type. This naturally has its disadvantages. One "Suzanne Lenglen," who, spends her spare time as a shop assistant up Lamington way, is now convinced that skirts are better.

Playing in a big match recently, she bust a "G string" (or elastic), but, with remarkable fortitude, kept on playing. A crowd of interested male spectators soon gathered at the court fence, all awaiting with eager anticipation for something to happen. They were disappointed for all their virgil was rewarded with was the gymnastic efforts of the tennis player to avoid embarrassment.


Earliest match for 'G-string' in the context of ecdesiast performances

The earliest match I have found for G-string as a vestigial garment worn by otherwise naked lady dancers is from "Nudist Style in Night Life Latest Vogue: Paris Music Halls and Clubs Using G-String for Dress," in the Breckenridge [Texas] American (April 26, 1935):

The famous French Can-Can, with its flinging about of multiple petticoats, and the traditionally Parisian reviews in which daring costumes left little to the imagination, have given way to the G-string. Nude choruses and naked dancers are the only order of the day.

Practically every Paris music hall exploits this nudist movement which has invaded the theaters. The prime offering at the Casino de Paris is "Naked Bath at Midnight," while the attraction at the Alcazar is "Nude Review," and at the Concert Mayol the program is "Naked Parade."

...

A curious feature of these nudist performances is the attitude of the Paris police, who only object when the distance between nudity and spectators is not sufficient.

An example of this subtle distinction is the case of Joan Warner, whose exhibitions as "the American Poetess of Naked Rhythm" were stopped because she was too close to the diners. Now she performs in the more spacious confines of the Alcazar Theater.

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  • Two tons divvied up to only twenty women is impressive.
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 0:29
  • Wow, this answer is much longer than I would have expected. It has a ton of very interesting information providing some insight to the origin of "G-string". Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 5:53
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I found this on Wikipedia:

Since the 19th century, the term geestring referred to the string which held the loincloth of Native Americans and later referred to the narrow loincloth itself. William Safire in his Ode on a G-String quoted the usage of the word "G-string" for loincloth by Harper's Magazine 15 years after John Hanson Beadle's 1877 usage and suggested that the magazine confused the word with the musical term G-string (i.e., the string for the G note). This is apocryphal, as the narrowest string on a violin is the E string.

Safire also mentions the opinion of linguist Robert Hendrickson that G (or gee) stands for groin, which was a taboo word at the time.

Cecil Adams, author of the blog The Straight Dope, has proposed an origin from "girdle-string", which is attested as early as 1846.

History

The G-string first appeared in costumes worn by showgirls in Earl Carroll's productions during the 1920s, a period known as the Jazz Age or the Roaring Twenties. Linguist Robert Hendrickson believes that the 'G' stands for 'groin'. The Oxford English Dictionary reports that the G-string was originally a narrow strip of fabric worn by Indian women. During the Depression, a "G-string" was known as "the gadget", a double-entendre that referred to a handyman's "contrivance", an all-purpose word for the thing that might "fix" things. During the 1930s, the "Chicago G-string" gained prominence when worn by performers like Margie Hart. The Chicago area was the home of some of the largest manufacturers of G-strings and it also became the center of the burlesque shows in the United States.

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  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_on_the_G_String
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 19, 2017 at 17:23
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    So the origin of "G-string" is debatable. However, I find the "string on a violin" rather unlikely, because why would anyone name an undergarment after a string on a musical instrument? Commented Feb 19, 2017 at 23:54
  • @JennaSloan - Because the garment is a thin as a string on a stringed instrument.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 20:08
  • A natural option they forget is that it stems from an indigenous word, if it's first recorded in reference to native inhabitants of the Great Plains, although that might have been loaned along with the item (e.g. jute cloth, I guess).
    – vectory
    Commented Jan 19, 2020 at 3:08
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Strippers used to dance to live music, so they'd likely be well-acquainted with some of the musicians. Maybe one provided a literal G-string for a dancer in a moment of wit and/or need. A woman named Kiki, in 1920s Paris, was known as "the Queen of Montparnasse." She was a cabaret dancer/stripper, painter, socialite, and model for many famous artists. It is her very famous back that is painted as a violin - with violin f-holes! to go with her cabaret dancer's G-string? - in Man Ray's 1924 photo, "Ingres' Violin." (Le Violon d'Ingres). The era is about right too, isn't it? Check her out; she is a fascinating charachter. https://johnrlovett.wordpress.com/2017/03/23/le-violon-dingres-ingres-violin/

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    What do you mean by “f-hole” and “literal G-string”? Please do not respond in comments; edit your answer to make it clearer and more complete. Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 4:01
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    @Scott I think the "f-hole", which could be misconstrued for something completely different, refers to the characteristic shape of the two holes found in a violin. It must have a proper name, but I don't know what it is. Nope... that's their proper name: f holes
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 5:38
  • @Mari-LouA: Yes, it occurred to me that multiple meanings could apply.     :-)     ⁠ Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 5:42
  • Some musical instrument strings are made from nylon, most notably the Guitar's, which is import, if it's purpose was to be invisible, albeit rather uncomfortable to wear, I imagine.
    – vectory
    Commented Jan 19, 2020 at 3:42

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