giddyup

Hey, let’s play Lone Ranger! Hop on Silver – do you feel giddy up there? Now cue the soundtrack. You might say “Hiyo, Silver, away,” but you might be inspired by Rossini’s William Tell overture to say instead “Giddyup, giddyup, giddyup, up, up!”

But why would you want your horse to be giddy, anyway? Giddy is a word come down to us from Old English, now meaning “woozy, dizzy, light-headed,” but originally it meant “insane,” and in particular the kind of insane one is when possessed by a god (the gid is thought to have come via gyd from gud, an Old Teutonic root for “god”). And while the Lone Ranger may be godlike, I can’t imagine one would want Silver to be in a Bacchic frenzy, as it were.

Well, not to worry. This has nothing to do with giddiness. It’s just giddup with that that rough-ridin’ palatal glide inserted (echoes of yup come in). The pair are also spelled giddap and giddyap. And giddup, for its part, is just a spelling that indicates the way the cowboys said – and you and I usually say – get up. It looks a bit more like gallop this way, doesn’t it? (The g seems vaguely lasso-ish in some typefaces, too.) And it reflects the sound of hoofbeats a bit more, too. But giddup, giddup, giddup is a trot, whereas giddyup, giddyup, giddyup is a gallop. And if you’ve ever ridden a horse, I’m sure you will agree with me that a gallop is much more enjoyable than a trot.

This may bring to mind gee up, too, though the g there is the “soft g” – i.e., an alveopalatal affricate. But that’s not really related to giddyup. The gee is a command for a horse, sort of the other direction on the throttle from whoa; it is used variously to mean “go,” “go faster,” or “move to the right.” Nobody seems to know why it’s gee; perhaps it came from the Houyhnhnms. It didn’t come from agee – rather, agee came from it. But that brings us back to music, and a figure rather opposite to the great masked rider of the plains: Gilbert and Sullivan’s “modern major-general”…

When have learned what progress has been made in modern gunnery,
When I know more of tactics than a novice in a nunnery,
In short, when I’ve a smattering of elemental strategy,
You’ll say a better major-general has never sat agee.

2 responses to “giddyup

  1. I’ve always wondered what ‘agee’ meant in that song. Sitting to the right? Presumably off-balance in the saddle?

  2. The general consensus is that it’s intended simply to mean “rode a horse.” The exigencies of rhyming…

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