It Geed.

A puzzled correspondent sent me this quote, saying the final word was a mystery to him:

There were papers, letters, and paid bills and miscellaneous items, including the stuff from her room at the office, but there was no diary or anything resembling one, and there was nothing that seemed likely to be of any help. If it got too tough I might have to have another go at it or put Saul Panzer on it. I did use a few of the items, in Elinor’s handwriting, to check the writing on the letter that was in the box with the money. It geed.

  The Father Hunt, by Rex Stout (Bantam pbk., 1971, p. 18)

I sent him a link to Green’s Dictionary of Slang, but it occurred to me that this long-forgotten term might be of interest to others (and perhaps clarify similar mysteries), so here’s Green’s definition and a few citations:

gee v
also jee
[? pron. of initial letter of SE go]

to fit, to suit, to behave as required or expected; usu. in phr. it won’t gee, it doesn’t suit, it doesn’t work.

c.1698 [UK] B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: It wont Gee, it won’t Hit, or go.
1719 [UK] in D’Urfey Pills to Purge Melancholy V 83: If Miss prove peevish and will not gee / […] / find out a fairer, a kinder than she.
1887 [Aus] Bulletin (Sydney) 5 Nov. 7/3: Italian opera ‘gees’ in a general way at Melbourne Royal, but not to any alarming degree.
1904 [Aus] West. Australian 12 Apr. 9/2: They all reckon they can bring […] in enough sentiment to make it gee.
1925 [US] Odum & Johnson Negro and His Songs (1964) 154: Yes, I hollow at the mule, an’ the mule would not gee.

I say “long-forgotten,” but of course I shouldn’t assume: are any of y’all familiar with this short, punchy verb? Also, how does Green know that last quote doesn’t involve gee “(intransitive) Of a horse, pack animal, etc.: to move forward; go faster; or turn in a direction away from the driver, typically to the right”?


  1. I don’t know the word, but I am intrigued by the concern that Italian operas might ‘gee’ at the Melbourne Royal to such an alarming degree that they could upset the delicate constitutions of Australian audiences.

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    I imagine that the fear was that the notoriously depraved content of Italian operas might inflame the equally notorious criminal tendencies of the locals.

  3. I didn’t feel familiar with this usage, but when reminded of the history, going back to Gee! as a command to animals to turn right, it came back to me that I had seen occasional broader usages. Certainly, there was the verb sense use of gee specific to domestic animals mentioned at the end of the post, but I realized that I had also encountered the broader meaning used in The Father Hunt (although, reading it just now, I had no idea what it meant in that quote until I was prompted by the etymology).

  4. Nat Shockley says

    The line from The Bulletin would have been intended humorously. Something of the style of The Bulletin, a journal that was quite important in the early development of Australian popular culture, can be gathered from this section of its Wikipedia page:

    According to The Times of London, “It was The Bulletin that educated Australia up to Federation”.[21] In South Africa, Cecil Rhodes regarded The Bulletin with “holy horror” and as a threat to his imperialist ambitions.[22] In a piece on Rhodes, W. T. Stead wrote that “The Bulletin he thus honoured by his dread is indeed one of the most notable journals of the world”: “It is brilliant, lawless, audacious, scoffing, cynical, fearless, insolent, cocksure”.[23] English author D. H. Lawrence felt that The Bulletin was “the only periodical in the world that really amused him”, and often referred to it for inspiration when writing his 1923 novel Kangaroo.[24] Like Lawrence, the novel’s English narrator considers it “the momentaneous life of the continent”, and appreciates its straightforwardness and the “kick” in its writing: “It beat no solemn drums. It had no deadly earnestness. It was just stoical and spitefully humorous.”

  5. Interesting. The slang meaning is totally new to me, but I’ve also only ever seen the standard meaning (“turn to the right”) used in the wordplay of cryptic crossword clues. I agree that the last citation about the mule seems rather clearly to be the standard meaning, not the slang one.

  6. Andrew Dunbar says

    Doesn’t jibe with me.

  7. The full 1925 poem does not produce any evidence in favour of the “behave as required” sense.

  8. J.W. Brewer says

    Not at all familiar with this extended sense. The horse/mule-etc.-direction sense came back to my consciousness upon prompting, but only as part of the matched set haw and gee,* and I couldn’t have told you without looking it up which of those might make the animal go right and which left. I have never myself been a mule-driver or observed one at work, so my knowledge of their working dialect is entirely second-hand and literary in origin.

    In a loose parallel, when I lived as a boy in Tokyo four decades ago I quickly picked up the set of four stereotypical instructions that you needed for interacting with a cabdriver, which were the idiomatic equivalents of turn right, turn left, go straight ahead, and stop here. But I no longer have the whole set easily accessible in my head and I recall fragments of it without being sure of which of those four results they would elicit if uttered. I just looked up “hidari,” which I was certain was one of the set, and learned anew that it (左) means “left.” But without looking it up I would have had to say it to Japanese-speaking cabdriver and observe the result.

    *Is this the origin of “yee-haw” or is that a folk etymology? No one seems to have an opinion that I find persuasive.

  9. “Gee”, & “haw”, along with “come gee” & “come haw” [which mean to turn 180º either clockwise or anti-clockwise], & “hike” [not “mush”] are, or were, sled-dog commands. We once had a famous lead dog whose celebrity was owed to her turning her entire team of twelve to fifteen dogs and bringing it back to her musher when he had come off the sled in a race. She was semi-retired as a team of one, for my young niece. I think “it gees” was an expression sometimes used by my father when measuring & fitting together some wooden construction. But that memory is much fuzzier.

  10. David Marjanović says

    Is this the origin of “yee-haw” or is that a folk etymology?

    Why would that have an etymology any more than yippie or yabbadabbadoo?

  11. Doesn’t jibe with me.

    Or as the young folk do be saying, “Doesn’t jive with me.”

  12. Never encountered this “gee”, and my usual Ulysses oracle yields nothing beyond familiar uses:

    – But my riddle! he said. What opera is like a railway line?
    – Opera? Mr O’Madden Burke’s sphinx face reriddled.
    Lenehan announced gladly:
    – The Rose of Castille. See the wheeze? Rows of cast steel. Gee!

    And two great big lovely big tears coursing down his cheeks. It was all no use soothering him with no, nono, baby, no and telling him about the geegee and where was the puffpuff but Ciss, always readywitted, gave him in his mouth the teat of the suckingbottle and the young heathen was quickly appeased.

    BELLO Ask for that every ten minutes. Beg, pray for it as you never prayed before. (He thrusts out a figged fist and foul cigar.) Here, kiss that. Both. Kiss. (He throws a leg astride and, pressing with horseman’s knees, calls in a hard voice.) Gee up! A cockhorse to Banbury cross. I’ll ride him for the Eclipse stakes. (He bends sideways and squeezes his mount’s testicles roughly, shouting.) Ho! off we pop! I’ll nurse you in proper fashion. (He horserides cockhorse, leaping in the saddle.) The lady goes a pace a pace and the coachman goes a trot a trot and the gentleman goes a gallop a gallop a gallop a gallop.

  13. Using jive to mean jibe is a solecism decades old at least.

  14. @Noetica — Joyce’s “Gee up!” Is a visual pun, involving the less well known hard-g gee

  15. Ah yes MM, I see it. Not in OED or Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated, but meaning “vulva” (as it were). Suits the action rather well. It’s plausible, but not certain that Joyce had it in mind, since “Gee up!” already works well in that context.

  16. Andrew Dunbar says

    Or as the young folk do be saying, “Doesn’t jive with me.”

    I had to look it up for spelling and eggcornness before posting. I’m discovering a new eggcorn about every other day lately but the old ones sometimes sneak by me.

  17. Is “gee” some kind of archaic or dialect form of “go”? Cousin of German “geh!”? (is it a hard “G”?)

    If so, both the “to fit, to suit” and “horse command” senses would be related – you want the horse to “go”, and when something “goes” it fits.

    Any thoughts on this (amateur) theory?

  18. PlasticPaddy says

    The first domesticated horses were only able to understand Stop (haw) and Go (gee) commands. After generations of intensive cross-breeding, horses were able to understand the additional Left and Right commands for which gee and haw were repurposed, having already been mostly replaced in their original meanings by giddyap/whoa.

  19. is it a hard “G”?

    No, soft, hence the alternate spelling jee.

  20. The teacher who read Farmer Boy to us thought it had a hard /g/.

  21. An English teacher at my old high school in Buenos Aires thought George Eliot was a man.

  22. David Eddyshaw says

    I have a review somewhere by Mark Hanna Watkins of (Ethel) Ashton’s Swahili Grammar which refers to Ashton throughout as “he.” (Though that is more understandable: the grammar nowhere gives the author’s actual given names. However, there is a reference in the introductory pages to a “Mrs Ashton” having supervised the recording of the associated Linguaphone records. Wife, perhaps?)

  23. A lot of British writers of the female persuasion used to be cagey about the fact. C. V. Wedgwood, E. G. R. Taylor, G. E. M. Anscombe …

  24. David Eddyshaw says

    I think this may have been SOAS house style in the case of Ashton’s work; (David Whitehorn) Arnott’s The Nominal and Verbal Systems of Fula, for example, identifies the author only as “D W Arnott.” W A A Wilson, who wrote a very nice but unpublished introduction to Dagbani (I was sorely tempted to steal the manuscript from the GILLBT offices in Tamale), and did a lot of work on Atlantic languages too, was William André Auquier Wilson. Now if I had names like that, I wouldn’t be hiding them as nondescript initials – especially if I had a dull surname like “Wilson”: the Wittgensteinian theologian D(ewi) Z(ephaniah) Phillips was a similar hider of his onomastic light under a bushel.

  25. J.W. Brewer says

    @Rodger: I always thought that was more of an American stratagem, at least for novelists as opposed to scholars, e.g. S.E. Hinton and E.L. Konigsburg. This may be because it seems like more British male writers (E.M. Forster, J.R.R. Tolkien …) do it although I guess America is burdened by J.D. Salinger.

    Obviously there are house style and/or genre conventions. In the numerous technical papers my grandfather authored or co-authored during his career at the Central Experiment Station of the U.S. government’s Bureau of Mines,* he was invariably “R. E. Brewer,” no more no less.

    *E.g., his 1942 page-turning thriller “Plastic and Swelling Properties of Bituminous Coking Coals.” In which the same style is used in the “Acknowledgments” where he states he’s deeply indebted to worthy colleagues like W. A. Selvig and A. C. Fieldner, with a special shout-out to H. C. Landau, formerly of Carnegie Tech’s Coal Research Library, who had translated a number of relevant Russian articles for him. On the other hand, that style was *not* followed when referencing female employees of the Bureau. Thus, the acknowledgements section of a different co-authored paper has lots of credits like “G. H. Martindill, scientific aide, assisted with the carbonization tests and analyzed the gases,” but concludes with “Mary H. Cizmarik, clerk-stenographer, and Victoria A. Hoysan, clerk-typist, calculated the test data and assisting in preparing the manuscript.”

  26. P. D. James.

  27. The elimination of the Bureau of Mines was not by any means the worst thing done by the Gingrich Congress, but it was, for me, the most personally galling.

  28. Hm. OK. I see. Thanks. “gee” is pronounced “jee” in the senses being discussed.

    But note the confusing inclusion of “gee” in the following entry among several other terms with hard “G” – giddap, get ap, gee-hup, gee-up – Is telling a horse to TURN jee, but telling it to GO is gee, both spelled gee? Jeez.

    giddy-up (interj.)
    command to a horse to go, 1909, probably an extended form of earlier giddap (1867), itself probably from get up. Compare gee.

    The terms used to start horses in harness and to urge them to a better appreciation of the value of time comprise vulgar corruptions of ordinary speech and peculiar inarticulate sounds. Throughout England and the United States drivers start their horses by picking up the reins, drawing them gently against the animals’ mouths, and exclaiming go ‘long and get up; the latter appears in the forms get ap ( a as in hat), giddap, and gee-hup or gee-up. [H. Carrington Bolton, “Talking to Domestic Animals,” in The American Anthropologist, March 1897]

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