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I understand that it roughly means a fighter/mage, as per this question: How to optimize a Gishy [Fighter/Mage] Character?

But I just wanted to know more about how the term came about. It's so hard to keep up with the kids these days, learning the lingo helps.

Is it related to Githzerai in DnD? A good answer would include the root words, and a few examples from RPG forums with context (if they exist; I could only find this).

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The githyanki have been a fixture in Dungeons & Dragons ever since they showed up in the original Fiend Folio in 1981. (Look! Right there on the cover!)

Like drow, githyanki had mixed parties of different characters, featuring both front-line warriors and support casters. One of the specialized githyanki types was the gish, who was essentially a multi-class spellcaster (fighter/mage or thief/mage; githyanki do not have clerics).

Over time, D&D fans picked up the term and started using it to refer to fighter/mage characters in general, especially if they actually fight in melee.

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In the githyanki language, apostrophes (which are not pronounced) separate different morphemes which have been combined into a single word. For example, gish'sarath combines the word gish, or "skilled," with sarath, or "sergeant." Githyanki who have trained with great heroes add the prefix gi' ("student of") to their trainer's name.

Githyanki, from Wikipedia

Also from the very same source:

The githyanki captain, the gish githyanki, and the githyanki soldier appeared in Monster Manual IV (2006).

Furthermore:

The gith races are truly efficient warriors in that they combine all disciplines in their tactics; it is probably the case that the only race to even approach this multi-disciplinary approach to combat is humanity itself. The githyanki, arguably the most aggressive of the gith races, combine magic, psionics and swordplay in a single, terrifying wave of assault. The most significant example of this can be found in the gish, students of both the magic word and the magic sword.

planewalker.com: the gish (2005)

Planewalker.com is/was/has been a semi-official website - meaning: "while WotC isn't working with the setting we have the nod to go ahead in development" (from their FAQ) - dedicated to the Planescape setting, and it was established in 1999 by Brannon Hollingsworth, according to their FAQ. Their info seems pretty reliable, though I'm not entirely sure about its current validity. The material on the "gish" seems solid, though.

All emphases mine.

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A githyanki fighter/mage

The term "gish" first appears in an official D&D product in the AD&D Fiend Folio (1981), p.43, where it refers to a githyanki fighter/magic-user:

2 'gish': fighter/magic-users of 4th/4th level

The githyanki did previously appear in White Dwarf magazine, issue 12 (1979), but according to RPG.SE user Carcer, we know that the term "gish" did not appear in that issue. It is likely an invention of Fiend Folio editor Don Turnbull, who, according to the Fiend Folio's preface, expanded upon some monster entries:

My own task has been quite a simple one - to select monsters for inclusion, to develop them as necessary and write the statistics and texts, to assemble the entries in coherent form and to produce the various tables.

The word "gish" is given an in-lore meaning in the Planescape sourcebook A Guide to the Astral Plane (1996):

Githyanki call those who are trained in both fighting and spellcasting gish, meaning "skilled". These talented individuals are rare and well-respected, often becoming leaders or other people of influence.

These men and women are multiclassed fighter/wizards – the only type of multiclass allowed to githyanki.

The name "gish'sarath" is given in the D&D 4e Dungeon Magazine #168 adventure A Tyranny of Souls, where it is said to mean "swordmaster". This construction originates in the D&D 3e era Polyhedron magazine, issue 159, p. 10:

For example, in the title gish'sarath, the apostrophe connects two independent units of meaning: gish, or "skilled", meaning a githyanki who uses both weapons and spells, and sarath, a modification of sarth, usually translated as "sergeant", a commander of the smallest military unit in the githyanki armies. It is pronounced gish´-sahr-ath´, with no vocalization of the apostrophy except perhaps a slight pause.

The rank "sarth" previously appeared in A Guide to the Astral Plane (1996), p.49.

Generic sense

Use of "gish" in a generic sense to refer to all fighter/wizard builds dates back to at least 2005, such as this post on rec.games.frp.dnd:

Well, the eldritch knight sees a lot of use in "gish" character builds, but consider the alternatives. How many builds have one level of spellsword for the spell failure chance reduction? How many builds have more than that one level? How many builds have that one level and go the distance with the eldritch knight?

This usage was likely introduced to D&D by fans of AD&D 2nd edition Planescape lore. While the term did appear in the 3e Manual of the Planes and 3.5 Monster Manual, it was only defined in those books as "multiclass githanki", meaning that the term must descend from the AD&D definition. There are probably earlier uses of the term that I don't have a source for.

As far as I can find, official sources used term "gish" to refer exclusively to githyanki, and its use to refer to fighter/wizard multiclass builds in general is particular to fan terminology most popular circa 1996-2007. According to a 2016 forum post, the term was used by fans in the AD&D 2e era.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Referring to a copy of White Dwarf #12, the githyanki are described as progressing as fighters, magic-users or fighters/magic-users, but the specific term "gish" is not used at all. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Dec 21 '19 at 0:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Carcer Excellent find, thank you! \$\endgroup\$ – Quadratic Wizard Dec 21 '19 at 3:24

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