gecko, get-go

Montgomery Starling-Byrd was back in town on yet another global word-tasting expedition. A few of us joined him for dinner and drinks. He happened to be seated next to Elisa Lively, and I canted an ear to their conversation. Which did not disappoint.

“Well, we ran into trouble right from the get-go,” Elisa was saying.

“From the gecko?” Montgomery said.

“No, from the dog. It kept taking the food.”

“From the gecko,” Montgomery said, seeking clarification.

“Yes, right from the get-go. It liked lizard food right away.”

“As long as it didn’t like lizard for food.”

“Oh,” Elisa said, “that’s a whole other tale.”

“Another tail from the gecko?”

“No, that came later.”

“Where was the tail from?”

“From the gecko, but later. Not from the get-go.”

“I’m afraid I’ve lost the thread of the tale here,” Montgomery said.

“Well, the gecko’s tail was threatened. Actually the dog pulled on it and wouldn’t let go, and the gecko dropped it.”

“Autotomy,” Montgomery observed (that’s the word for when a lizard drops its tail).

“It wanted its autonomy, yes. So that was the end of the tail.”

“And there was no more.”

“No,” Elisa said, “it grew another one. Geckos do that.”

“Indeed they do. It’s a kind of insurance.”

I just about choked on my wine stifling a giggle at the thought of the Geico gecko and its accent, which is not quite as plummy as Montgomery’s.

“That happened more than once,” Elisa said. “But the worst was the noise.”

“From the gecko?”

“Yes, from the very start. Especially from the dog.”

“Why?”

“It didn’t like the noise the gecko made.”

“Ah, yes: ‘Gecko!’ That’s how they got their name. It’s from Malay.”

“The poet?”

“What?”

“‘I burn the candle at both ends…’ She named the gecko?”

“The… Oh, no, the Malay language. In Malaysia. Not Edna St. Vincent Millay.”

“Oh. Well,” Elisa giggled, “that gecko burned at both ends. It made a noise the dog hated. And so the dog barked like crazy. And the gecko made more noise.”

“A sort of gecko echo.”

“Yeah! And at the other end there was that tale.”

“The end of the tale.”

“Repeatedly.”

“From the gecko.”

“No, not from the get-go.”

“From the dog?” Montgomery furrowed his brow.

“No, from the gecko.”

“Are you insane, or am I?” Montgomery said, staring abruptly into his wine glass.

I intervened. “Montgomery! Do you mean to say you are unfamiliar with the Americanism – and Canadianism – from the get-go?” I pronounced it slowly and clearly.

“From the… get? go?” Montgomery said. “Oh yes, I see. Voice and place assimilation with reduction: the /t/ devoices the /g/ after it, but also moves to the back and simply pre-stops the stop. Well, this is a very hockey-sounding term. Or perhaps NASCAR. So I take it that it comes from get going, which has been shortened and treated as a noun.”

“Truncated and mutated,” I said.

“Like my gecko,” Elisa said.

“I don’t think I would,” Montgomery said. “I would as soon have a grackle.”

“I guess your kind of bird is the starling.” Elisa giggled.

“Rather. I prefer a murmuration to the noise of a gecko.”

“So would Lawrence,” Elisa said.

“Who is Lawrence?”

“My dog.”

“Oh,” Montgomery said. “And what, dare I ask, was the gecko’s name?”

Elisa held her hands wide, palms up, as if to say it was obvious. “Gordon, of course!”

5 responses to “gecko, get-go

  1. And here I thought ‘get-go’ was from the chant at the beginning of a race:

    On your mark,
    Get ready (or set),
    Go!

    It is gecko season here in Texas. I see their silhouettes on the kitchen windows at night. I try to keep them out of the house because the cats view them as happy toys to torment until they stop working. Summer is upon us when the June bugs and geckos come out, usually sometime in April!

    • The etymologies given in the usual sources involve some surmise, so it’s not impossible that the race start may have been an influence. The term first showed up in the 1960s in print.

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