Monday, November 08, 2010

An Etymology Unmasked

There has been a lot of media hullabaloo about the passenger who boarded an Air Canada flight in Hong Kong as an elderly white man and disembarked in Vancouver as a young Asian guy. Many are shocked that his Mission: Impossible-style silicone mask was able to fool airline staff, but let's face it, most of these grunts are too busy stamping documents, wrestling carry-on into overhead compartments, and telling us to turn off our portable electronic devices to play detective.

The episode inspired the The Vancouver Sun to do one of those silly experiments news outlets like to do, and so a young reporter was dispatched to be made "old" by film special effects wizards and sent out on the streets to see whom he could fool. Practically nobody, as it turned out--an outcome that is foreshadowed early in the first-person report by said intrepid reporter:
If anyone scrutinized me closely the gig would be up, I thought, as you could clearly see my makeup in more detail as well as the fake mustache lining...
Now, the reporter may have had a gig, in the broadest sense of "a booking for a performance," for this bit of street theater. But when someone is caught out in a deception, which is obviously the context here, it's said that "the jig is up." Apparently, the word goes back to the 17th century as the name of a kind of dance, and later it also came to mean a trick or practical joke. Now it's just an insipid cliche, no matter how you spell it.