A jinx comin’ on

Buy me a Coke

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - BRENDA LOOPER As­sis­tant Edi­tor Brenda Looper is edi­tor of the Voices page. Read her blog at blooper0223. wordpress.com. Email her at blooper@arkansason­line.com.

I’m not the su­per­sti­tious sort. Re­ally, I’m not. But some­times … I should have known I was jinx­ing my­self a cou­ple of weeks ago when I said in my col­umn that my health was good. Wouldn’t you know it, the flu saw that as a chal­lenge. Luck­ily, I’d had a flu shot in Novem­ber, so the ac­tual du­ra­tion of flu symp­toms was only a few days. Af­ter that, it be­came the re­turn of the cold from hell that I’d fi­nally al­most re­cov­ered from.

I just can’t win for sneez­ing. So yeah, last week I wasn’t so much play­ing in the mud (though I did a lit­tle) as I was help­ing the bot­tom line of the com­pa­nies that make Puffs Plus, Halls and as­sorted cold reme­dies. You’re wel­come, share­hold­ers.

And in the midst of all that sneez­ing, cough­ing and nose-blow­ing, I still found a way to be word-nerdy in won­der­ing just where “jinx”—a per­son, thing or in­flu­ence that brings bad luck, or the act of do­ing so—orig­i­nated. Not even ill­ness can ward off my nerdi­ness. To be hon­est, not much can.

If you’re fa­mil­iar with the sto­ries that at­tribute jinx to the Wry­neck bird (Latin spelling jynx) sup­pos­edly used in witchcraft and div­ina­tion, or to a charm or spell, well, hold that thought be­cause it’s not that clear-cut.

For Amer­i­cans, a jinx is of­ten thought of in terms of base­ball, and many of the early ci­ta­tions in the Amer­i­can press, like one in 1904 be­moan­ing the bat­ting of the Los An­ge­les base­ball club, had it spelled “jinks,” ac­cord­ing to the World Wide Words blog. By the time the first decade of the 20th cen­tury was over, it had moved to the mod­ern spelling, such as in the 1910 book The Jinx: Sto­ries of the Di­a­mond by Allen San­gree.

World Wide Words says the idea of the Amer­i­can form of “jinx” be­ing based on the bird has two big holes: “The Wry­neck is not a North Amer­i­can bird and the word jynx for it was schol­arly and un­com­mon. Ap­pro­pri­ate though it was, it would be sur­pris­ing to learn Amer­i­can sports­men seized upon it.” It’s not like the In­ter­net and so­cial me­dia were around then, so it took longer for some things to travel.

Ety­mol­o­gist Barry Popik sug­gests in­stead that it could have come from “Cap­tain Jinks of the Horse Marines,” an Amer­i­can vaudeville song in the 1860s about a buf­foon­ish, un­suc­cess­ful sol­dier that be­came a bar­room sta­ple. The char­ac­ter later ap­peared in a play star­ring Ethel Bar­ry­more, and in a satiric novel. Ac­cord­ing to Wor­do­ri­gins.org, Popik and Ger­ald Co­hen also found a spoof of Edgar Al­lan Poe’s “The Raven” called “More Copy,” pub­lished in 1859 in The Printer, with the char­ac­ter of “Jinks” in place of the raven, act­ing as a mes­sen­ger be­tween an edi­tor and re­porter:

“Sure, that must be Jinks,” we mut­tered—

“Jinks that’s knock­ing at our door;

“Jinks, the ev­er­last­ing bore.” […]

“Tell the fore­man there’s no copy, you ugly lit­tle bore.

“Quoth our devil, ‘send him more’.”

Dou­glas Wil­son found what ap­pears to be widely con­sid­ered as the most prob­a­ble source for “jinx” as it is known in Amer­ica. In 1887, a mu­si­cal com­edy called Lit­tle Puck was writ­ten, par­tially based on F. An­stey’s Vice Versa (the ba­sis for at least four movies in the 20th cen­tury, in­clud­ing the one in 1988 star­ring Judge Rein­hold).

World Wide Words says that in writ­ing the play, “the authors took many lib­er­ties with the book, amal­ga­mat­ing its plot with that of a later An­stey work, A Fallen Idol, and in­tro­duc­ing ad­di­tional char­ac­ters, in par­tic­u­lar one to whom they gave the name Jinks Hoodoo, de­scribed as ‘a curse to ev­ery­body, in­clud­ing him­self.’ Hoodoo, a vari­a­tion of voodoo, is recorded from the early 1880s in the sense of a per­son or thing that’s sup­posed to bring bad luck. At this time, Jinks— not an un­com­mon first name, nick­name or fam­ily name—didn’t have such as­so­ci­a­tions.”

Af­ter that, it soon be­came com­mon to de­scribe some­one who brings bad luck as Jinks Hoodoo, or as it be­gan to be short­ened in the press mostly in re­la­tion to base­ball, “jinks,” and then “jinx.”

Annnnd that’s about the ex­tent of my in­ter­est in base­ball most days.

Sure, there will al­ways be peo­ple who stick solely to the bird the­ory on jinx, but they’re over­look­ing a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of its et­y­mol­ogy. That’s the beauty of a lan­guage that evolves. Words and their mean­ings of­ten have mul­ti­ple in­flu­ences from worlds as di­verse as pop­u­lar cul­ture and sci­en­tific study, and that’s some­thing that word nerds like me en­joy.

Some­times, though, mis­use of words ends up chang­ing mean­ings, such as with “enor­mity,” which once meant hor­rific or mon­strous, but now is used of­ten as a syn­onym for huge. For the purists among us, that’s a high crime (not to be con­fused with high jinks). Still, it’s part of evo­lu­tion, and the tran­si­tion it­self can be fas­ci­nat­ing.

Yes, I get ex­cited about this stuff. No, I’m not in need of other things to dis­tract me.

I do, how­ever, need an­other tis­sue, thank you very much.

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