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Some are up in “G,”
Posted: 09 May 2013 02:46 AM   [ Ignore ]
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The song, Sidewalks of New York has the line Some are up in “G,” meaning, apparently, successful.  What might be the origin of this phrase?

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Posted: 09 May 2013 03:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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There’s some discussion on this topic here:  http://wordsmith.org/board/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=110030

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Posted: 09 May 2013 03:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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That’s where I got it from.  A lot of unsubstantiated opinion.  I came here for something from people who know what they’re talking about.

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Posted: 09 May 2013 09:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The complete phrase seems to have been “way up in G” and was popular back in the 1880’s and 90’s. 

Here are some examples that come out of an American Dialect Society listerv bulletin board from 2006:

Edit: Can’t get this to work as a hot link:  http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0609d&L=ads-l&P=11479

...
13 April 1889, National Police Gazette, pg. 3:
The matinee actor used to be the champion masher in New York, but just now
riding master stock appears to be booming in this direction, and by all
accounts it is away up in G, too.
...
20 August 1892, Atlanta Constitution, pg. 7:
Atlanta’s real estate market, to use the slang of the auctioneer, is going
“way up in G” this fall and winter.
...
8 September 1892, Atlanta Constitution, pg. 9:
They were all covered with railroad dust, and talked in heavy basso tones,
being hoarse with whooping, but their spirits were to use a campaign slang term
“way up in G.”
...
9 June 1895, Chicago Daily Tribune, pg. 36:
Last week from one of New York’s “way up in G” clothing makers…
...
2 August 1903, New York Times, pg. 8:
The simple truth is, it has become a sort of fad with a certain class to
denounce the handorgan. They don’t dislike that instrument half so much as they
like to be thought cultured and belonging to the “way-up-in-G” crowd.

[ Edited: 09 May 2013 09:46 AM by jtab4994 ]
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Posted: 09 May 2013 10:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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The expression is actually cited in the OED, but does not have its own entry.  It’s cited under “up”, as an adverb meaning “at a high or lofty pitch”, and given the location and the accompanying citation, it’s clear that the editor regarded it as referring to the note or key of G.  But I’m not sure that they really investigated the idiom.

(13)f. At a high or lofty pitch.
1902 O. Wister Virginian ix. 105 All the ladies thought the world of her, and McLean had told him she was ‘away up in G’.
1905 E. Glyn Vicissitudes Evangeline 81 He has a giggle right up in the treble.

Now for a little complete speculation: G is the 7th letter of the alphabet, and 7 sometimes symbolizes completion or perfection (e.g. “seventh heaven"). I wonder if there could be a connection there?

edit: fixed italics

[ Edited: 09 May 2013 12:14 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 09 May 2013 10:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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The earliest sources I could find quickly were from The Virginian, by Owen Wister, 1902, and from The Hahnemannian Advocate: A Monthly Magazine of Homeopathic medicine, edited by H.W. Pierson. In volume 35, April of 1896, the term is used.

Wister was talking about a schoolmarm who wouldn’t have trouble finding men because she had “away it up in G” and the patient in the journal was describing how high his temperature said it was “away up in G”.

Clearly, the schoolmarm reference was about her looks, not her income, and the patient’s temperature was high.

There are a lot of turn-of-the-century sources in print with people writing about a storm, a well-trained horse, a bumper crop, etc. It appears to have been used to say that something couldn’t be bettered, regardless of the category, but it did seem to be at its most popular during the wonderful years between 1880 and 1930.

P.S. Just saw you Wister reference above.

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Posted: 09 May 2013 07:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I think its origin is associated with the musical key of G.

Forgive me, I’m too pressed for time right now--I’ll put up more soon.

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Posted: 10 May 2013 02:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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That was my first thought, the musical note. I wasn’t confident enough in my tonic solfa to go further though.

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Posted: 10 May 2013 02:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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That was one of the ones I found least likely.

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Posted: 10 May 2013 04:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I don’t know anything about music.  Is the “key of G” a high key?

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Posted: 10 May 2013 05:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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No, there’s no such thing as a “high key”—there are only high notes.  There is such a thing as “high G”; here, for example, you can hear 14 sopranos try to hit it.  But the phrase “way up in G” excludes such an explanation.

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Posted: 10 May 2013 06:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Here is a fairly literal musical use of “away up in G”

In church the famous tenor had scaled the heights “away up in G,” and safely descended without a break.

from the Midland Monthly ostensibly from 1898, though the issue seems to be collected later inasmuch as the collection is dedicated to a Harvard graduate who died in 1918. The Children’s story is written by a Laura Blanche Thornely who would have been about 20 in 1898. She was born in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

I got this from one of the better responses (in my view) in the Wordsmith link offered by Skibs above.

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Posted: 10 May 2013 01:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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The National Tribune, Thursday, January 9th, 1890 [Volume IX, NO. 23, WHOLE NO. 439], in a front page serialized story segment entitled, Story of a Cannoneer, Reminiscences of a Detached Volunteer in a Regular Battery..., (Author, Augustus C. Buell?), (story, copyright 1889), fifth column, on the bottom:


Not having been with the battery in its
earlier battles, I could not judge what was the
spirit of its men at Manassas, Antietam or
Fredericksburg; but so far as my limited ob-
servation enabled me to judge, I should say
that the veterans were “away up in G,” as
musicians say, on that occasion.  there is
no doubt but that if the enemy had brought up
another battery it would have shared the fate
of the one which stood there silent and dis-
mantled in front of our still smoking muzzles.
...

I looked, but failed to find the phrase in the book, The Cannoneer: Recollections of Service in the Army of the Potomac, by Augustus C. Buell, copyright 1890, by The National Tribune. It should have appeared somewhere on pp. 214 to 216. I was unable to locate an 1889 edition.

.

The difficulty of playing in different keys depends upon the construction of the instrument and the skill level of the musician. Some instruments have a limited range and are built to be played broadly in only one key. The most common harmonica is a good example but there are also other types of harmonica that are not so limited. The valveless bugle is another example. At the other extreme is the trombone with its slide, limited only by the instrument’s range and technical skill of the player.

From a purely auditory viewpoint, there is no difference between keys. Computers can transpose music up and down into any key (and even between keys). Also, from a compositional viewpoint that does not take limitations of instrumentation and technical skill of players into account, there is no difference between keys.

Of course, difficulty may be isolated from “difficult to play in key.” For example, John Cage’s Freeman Etudes for violin were written intentionally to be just at or beyond the edge of possibility for a virtuoso player to perform. Ordinary master players are not easily able to play the pieces. Cage said in a 1983 interview: “These are intentionally as difficult as I can make them, because I think we’re now surrounded by very serious problems in the society, and we tend to think that the situation is hopeless and that it’s just impossible to do something that will make everything turn out properly. So I think that this music, which is almost impossible, gives an instance of the practicality of the impossible.”

I am unaware of the key of G being notoriously difficult to play in.

Ignoring solfege, a WAG: the origin of the phrase may be related to the perception of the progression of the “A B C’s” of the alphabet, in the following way: the musical notes of the common modern Western 12tet (twelve-tone equal temperament) scale are commonly named A B C D E F G. G would seem to be as far away from A as one could get in a listing, non-musical sense that conflates the linear progression of A through Z to A through G. But if so, wouldn’t it make sense for it to be “away down in G?” I don’t think so; after all, it is slang.

I’m sure I’m missing something, but I’m interested enough to keep an eye open for more on the origin of this phrase.

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Posted: 14 May 2013 05:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I posted about it here, where you will find interesting discussion and some very suggestive early examples (there was, for instance, an alternative “way up in G sharp").

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Posted: 14 May 2013 12:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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(there was, for instance, an alternative “way up in G sharp").

Basically the same as living in A Flat.

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Posted: 14 May 2013 12:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Commenter jmb at LH wrote:

From 1822 (Conduct is Fate by Lady Charlotte Campbell Bury, Vol. 2, p. 184):
“There is a theatre there [Edinburgh], and I believe they have races too; besides, they love music, and, when they don’t drawl their songs through their noses, or screech them up in G sharp, there is something of melody in their ditties which I don’t wholly dislike ...”

Quite an antedate!

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