Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Daily Hump: Jinx!

In pop culture jinx is the relatively common exclamation used when two people say the same word simultaneously. The word possesses great power as the one who says it first is allowed to continue speaking while the loser of the race is doomed to silence until a third party says their name. A jinx can also be a person or thing that brings bad luck or creates an evil influence, synonyms being a hoodoo (simply an alteration of Voodoo) or a jonah (named after the Hebrew prophet in the eponymous book of the Bible).

It is generally believed that the word jinx derives from the word jynx (or jyng). Jynx, in addition to being a charm or spell, is an order of spiritual intelligences in Chaldaic philosophy, Chaldea being a Hellinistic designation for part of Babylonia. The Romans used the word Chaldean to describe astrologers and mathematicians from the Babylonian region and they borrowed the word jynx (as iynx) from the Greeks where the word referred to the wryneck, a bird which was used heavily in witchcraft rituals. The wryneck is remarkable for its ability to twist its head almost 180 degrees while hissing like a snake, making it understandable why the Greeks and Romans would associate the bird with malevolent undertakings.

Jinx! Hisssssss...

Given that it has referred to a bad luck charm (in some form of spelling) for millennia it's odd that jinx does not have a recorded English usage until 1911. It is especially surprising that the first recorded usage is made in reference to baseball. The Chicago Daily News wrote, "Dave Shean and ‘Peaches’ Graham...have not escaped the jinx that has been following the champions". It's possible that jinx made its American debut about 40 years earlier in the title of the folksong "Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines".
The first day I went out to drill
The bugle sound made me quite ill,
At the Balance step my hat it fell,
And that wouldn't do for the Army.

The officers they all did shout,
They all cried out, they all did shout,
The officers they all did shout,
"Oh, that's the curse of the Army."
jinx [OED]
jynx [OED]
jinx [Online Etymology Dictionary]
jinx [Wikipedia]
Chaldea [Wikipedia]
Wryneck [Wikipedia]
Book of Jonah [Wikipedia]

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:: posted by David, 8:28 AM


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