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1580s, "elderly rustic," apparently a contraction of godfather (cf. gammer); originally "old man," it was applied from 1841 to foremen and supervisors, which sense carried over 20c. to "electrician in charge of lighting on a film set."
[fr British dialect, ''grandfather, godfather''; the dated meaning of the first sense is actually ''master, governor,'' often synonyms of ''father'']