04/11/06 - the term G.I.

In today's excerpt - the origin of the term G.I. and the difficulty of determining origins:

"... Col. Roger O. Egeberg, stepped on a semantic land mine when he casually referred to MacArthur's troops as G.I.s.  The general immediately exploded: 'Don't ever do that in my presence ... G.I. means 'general issue.' Call them soldiers. ... '

"While General MacArthur took G.I. to mean general issue, the term also has been interpreted over the years as standing for garrison issue, government issue, general infantry, and galvanized iron. And as it happens, the last, which might seem to be the least likely, is the true progenitor. ...

"G.I. appears in Army inventories of galvanized-iron trash cans and buckets from the early twentieth century. ... During World War I ... it was extended to include heavy German artillery shells and large bombs, while G.I. itself began to be applied in the MacArthurian sense of general issue to such items as G.I. shoes, G.I. soap and G.I. brushes.  Soldiers probably began referring to themselves as G.I.s during this war ... but no examples have been found in writing prior to 1935. ... The transition from trash can to soldiers may have been aided by the roughness and toughness of galvanized iron."


Hugh Rawson


American Heritage


History Now


April/May 2006


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