May 22, 2013

Case File #013.05.22: JEEP

You've probably heard the claim that the word jeep was borrowed from the name of Eugene the Jeep, the fictional creature who sometimes appeared with Popeye the Sailor in comic strips and animated cartoons. But is this ubiquitous origin story true? Well, yes...more or less. In early 1940, the vehicle we now refer to as jeep was designed for the U.S. military by an American company called Willys-Overland Motors, and when the vehicle was first deployed later that year, the official military designation for it was GP, an initialism derived from the phrase General-Purpose Motor Vehicle. Of course, American servicemen and servicewomen who were pop-culture savvy soon recognized that the burly little buggy figuratively resembled the indomitable Eugene the Jeep—the character first appeared in Thimble Theatre, the then-popular comic strip in which Popeye also appeared, just a few years before the military vehicle went into production—and when they also realized that a slurred pronunciation of the initialism GP sort of sounded like jeep, it didn't take long for the slurred pronunciation to usurp the letter-by-letter pronunciation or even for the spelling to change to jeep. In fact, jeep caught on so fast that it was showing up in official military documents and the public media as early as February 1941, and Willys-Overland Motors finally adopted the moniker (as a designation for the vehicle, not the company) in 1942 and filed an application to trademark it in early 1943. The trademark wasn't granted until 1950, however, and by then jeep had already passed into common usage with a lowercase j, and the verb sense—that is, “to travel by jeep”—was also already in widespread use.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

No comments:

Post a Comment