JAZZ CURVE.

A Boston Globe article by Ben Zimmer traces the word “jazz” back to a Los Angeles Times story from 1912. It starts:

One hundred years ago, a hard-throwing but erratic minor league pitcher named Ben Henderson was getting ready for his opening day start for the Portland Beavers against the Los Angeles Angels. Henderson had pitched well for the Beavers the previous year, but he began the 1912 season with a well-earned reputation as an unreliable drunk.
Henderson gave a Los Angeles Times reporter a preview of what he had planned for the game. “I got a new curve this year,” he explained, “and I’m goin’ to pitch one or two of them tomorrow. I call it the Jazz ball because it wobbles and you simply can’t do anything with it.” The headline for the item, from April 2, 1912, was simply “Ben’s Jazz Curve.”

Ben goes on to describe how the term spread after that. A nice read in this spring training month.

Comments

  1. dearieme says:

    “I call it the Jazz ball because it wobbles and you simply can’t do anything with it”: does that mean that “jazz” already had a recognised meaning to do with womankind? Or am I stereotyping the world of professional sportsmen?

  2. Jeffry house says:

    But people who play jazz will tell you that it was a black slang term for “fuck”. That seems more likely than borrowing the name of their art from baseball. Maybe black musucians didn’t get any newspaper attributions when they used the word.

  3. From the OED
    5. trans. U.S. slang. To have sexual intercourse with. Also intr.
    1920 A. C. Inman Diary 14 Apr. in Inman Diary (1985) I. 167 He had had sexual relations with her (in his slang ‘had jazzed her’).
    1929 T. Wolfe Look homeward, Angel (1930) ii. xiv. 176 Jazz ‘em all you like,‥but get the money.
    1930 J. T. Farrell in This Quarter July–Sept. 193 ‘She’s cute. I jazzed her too,’ O’Keefe said.
    1948 H. MacLennan Precipice (1949) i. 81 My sister was being jazzed by half the neighbourhood cats by the time she was fifteen.
    1952 J. Thompson Killer inside Me ii. 9 The nicest looking guy I ever saw and you turn out to be a lousy snooping copper‥. I don’t jazz cops.
    1977 Transatlantic Rev. No. 60. 57 One guy will talk about ‘jazzing’ the waitress.
    1996 G. P. Pelecanos Big Blowdown 59 Shit, Greek, you told me the next day that you jazzed her all up and down.
    I can’t imagine it isn’t related to jizz or jism, but since no one knows where that comes from either, maybe it isn’t.
    I’ve always though it’s sorta weird how negative terms like funky (stinky) or jive (trick, mislead) turn into good things when applied to music.

  4. dearieme says:

    I’ve never understood what “funky” means when applied to music. I suppose that I now know the meaning of the ancient title of the jazz tune “funky butt” .

  5. dearieme – just go on Youtube and look up “George Clinton” and “Parliament”. That should explain what “funky” means.

  6. But people who play jazz will tell you that it was a black slang term for “fuck”.
    I love jazz musicians, but they’re not etymologists, and people will tell you all sorts of things about where words came from without actually knowing what they’re talking about. And why is it “more likely than borrowing the name of their art from baseball”? It just seems that way because that’s the story you learned and are familiar with. It probably doesn’t seem very likely that “bead” originally meant “prayer,” and yet it’s true.

  7. James Brown, “Funky President.”

  8. Dearieme, thanks for your comment. It prompted me to spend a very enjoyable morning listening to James Brown while I did my homework.

  9. Time spent listening to James Brown is time well spent.

  10. Funky originally means ‘smelly’, as in funky [arm]pits. The other senses are derived from that.

  11. > It probably doesn’t seem very likely that “bead” originally meant “prayer,” and yet it’s true.
    Hm, it seems completely believable to me? I mean, beads stand for prayers in an 1-to-1 relationship; it makes a lot of sense that the name of the action would transfer to its physical tokens.

  12. What you’re saying is that it’s explicable, which is of course true. What I’m saying is that it’s not likely. Let me put it this way: would you expect the word “prayer” to come to mean a small round ball?

  13. Jeffry House says:

    I can buy “bead” for prayer, in part because it seems it might be related to “pedir”. Or whatever the Latin is for that.
    As for why taking the name “jazz” from sex rather than baseball? Because jazz musicians made love more often than they played baseball.

  14. Irrelevant and immaterial.

  15. There are more examples in the 1913 San Francisco Bulletin, also to do with baseball, which speaks of jazz meaning pep or spirit.
    There is no convincing etymology for “jazz”. One suggestion, given that the early usages all come from white people talking about baseball, is that it comes from the Irish “teas” (“heat”).
    There isn’t any reference to jazz as music prior to about 1915, with Stein’s Dixie Jass Band and the Original Dixieland Jass Band (which were white bands). After that some African-American bands started calling themselves jazz bands. However, there is some evidence that the older black players disliked the term as a white innovation, and preferred to call their music ragtime.
    There’s a pretty good collection of information at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jazz_%28word%29
    Professor Gerald Cohen of Missouri University of Science and Technology, who has done a great deal of work on the word’s history, in 2001 offered a $100 reward for any provable musical or sexual use of jazz from before 1913, an offer that still stands.

  16. $100 reward? That’s just pathetic. I don’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day. He should offer something more challenging, like eating his children.

  17. “What you’re saying is that it’s explicable, which is of course true. What I’m saying is that it’s not likely. Let me put it this way: would you expect the word “prayer” to come to mean a small round ball?”
    It is about as likely as a word for a small flat piece of word coming to mean the reckoning for a purchase, the slip of paper money you use to pay for it, a place to reside in temporary government-rented housing or a position on a list of who gets access to classified information in an organization, or the club police use during an arrest – bill, billet or billy [club].
    It is about as likely as calling trash email after a canned pork product.

  18. Jim: Most of your bills, those on paper, are < Anglo-French bille < Latin bulla ‘seal, document’. The various weapons, including the bird’s bill, are native words. But billy is probably from the man’s name as applied to a burglar’s tool; compare jack and jimmy/jemmy, says Etymonline.

  19. Jhn, I’ll go with that etymology on
    “bill” – not that I really know, but it is just very plausible.
    But “billet” is different. It still carries its core meaning of “slat; stick of wood”. Ebony is produced in billets in the trade and so is lignum vitae. And wooden meal tickets easily become wooden lodging tickets, and the rest follows by extension.
    “a place to reside in temporary government-rented housing or a position on a list of who gets access to classified information in an organization, ”
    “But billy is probably from the man’s name as applied to a burglar’s tool; compare jack and jimmy/jemmy, says Etymonline.”
    If it’s after someone’s name. It should be “mike club”, like it’s paddy wagon.It seems likier to me tha a club tha’s made out a biet of heavy wood would be named after that.

  20. I just stumbled upon this and i though it was a pretty cool story, bringing the two meanings of funk together. It’s from an interview with Richie Rich, the guy who put that James Brown’s socks, original funk in West Coast hip hop:
    “I got to work with Rick James on the How To Be A Player soundtrack album. I was in a studio somewhere down south, at one of DJ Quik’s studios. It was me, Quik, Rick James and this guy Danny LeMelle who played the horn on a lot of Slick Rick’s records. Rick James was a good dude. I was in awe most of the time I was there because, first, it was Quik, and second, Rick James was a total blow away!
    “I noticed that a lot of the old school guys recorded with their shoes off. Rick did that, Danny the horn player did that, and George Clinton did that. I asked George about that once but he was high at the time so I thought he might have been bullshitting me with his answer, so I asked Rick: ‘What’s with the barefoot thing?’ He said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, ‘I watched a lot of the O.G’s record and they’re always barefoot in the studio.’ He said the same thing George told me: ‘The funk is in the floor. If you got them shoes on and the funk attempts to come up, it ain’t gon’ get in you cause it’s gonna bump into the soul of your shoe and go back down.’
    “And you know what? While making new songs in my home studio I took my shoes off a lot! I wasn’t barefoot cause I had on socks, but I can just feel a different vibe on a lot of my new songs. The funk might really be in the floor!”

  21. That’s a terrific story—thanks for passing it along!

  22. Trond Engen says:

    A sole instance of another double meaning too, I see.

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