As President Biden moves to close the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base prison, columnist Ben Zimmer explores the history of the name “Gitmo”. Zimmer writes:
“The origins of the “Gitmo” designation go back to the end of the Spanish-American War, when the U.S. arranged a permanent lease of land on Guantanamo Bay at the southeast end of Cuba. The lease agreement with the new Cuban government ensured a continued American military presence on the island. That presence was sometimes used to protect Cuba’s sugar industry … From then on, Guantanamo Bay became a crucial hub of operations, and with telegraphy used for essential communications, an abbreviated form of the name was pressed into service: “Gtmo.””
From this origin, Zimmer traces the history of usage in media and popular culture, noting that the word “may no longer have such a hold on the public consciousness” if the Biden administration is successful in closing the prison.