Mighty Red Pen

April 5, 2007

Nice gams!

Filed under: Word wars — mighty red pen @ 3:09 pm

Helen’s Dad wants to know what the definition of gams is as in: “You got some nice gams!”

“Is it the whole leg or just the calf? And does it relate to yams in some way?” he asks.

Okay, so here’s the deal. Gams are the whole leg. The origin of the word is from the Italian, gamba. It doesn’t have anything to do with yams (which are not the same as sweet potatoes but that’s another post, probably not on MRP).

And no, you can’t pull it off unless you are Dick Tracy. Otherwise, I’m telling human resources on you.


  1. I am deeply honored that one of my submissions has been accepted. And all along I that my “Spuds McKenzie or Spuds Mackenzie” query would be the first.

    I lost the magnifier that went with my unabridged compact O.E.D., but with some squinting I was able to find that “gamb” used to refer to a leg on a coat of arms (why a specific term for that, I don’t know).

    The best O.E.D. quotation for “gams” as we know them is this passage from 1781: “If a man has bow legs, he has queer gams.”

    But I also like this, from 1887: “At you I merely lift my gam.”

    An entirely different meaning of “gam” was a nautical one of Scandinavian origin for “school of whales,” which Melville used. If I should ever in a Dick Tracy-moment blurt “nice gams!” to someone, I can always tell Human Resource this is what I meant.

    Comment by helen's dad — April 10, 2007 @ 8:20 pm | Reply

  2. What a word nerd, this Helen’s Dad. MRP, could it be you have met your match?

    Comment by Gopher — April 11, 2007 @ 9:58 am | Reply

  3. Hush your mouth! MRP meet her match? Not yet!

    Comment by mightyredpen — April 11, 2007 @ 3:22 pm | Reply

  4. You might enjoy reading my latest poetry post, The Night Train. I use the word gam,and did indeed wonder if it referred to all the leg, or not.


    Glad I stopped in! 🙂

    Comment by veggiesyarnsandtails — April 12, 2008 @ 12:30 pm | Reply

  5. The Italian word for leg is gamba and the use of the word gams comes from the old crime novels of the ’40s, where it probably came into use through Mafiosi

    Comment by Jennifer Alexander — September 30, 2014 @ 9:32 am | Reply

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