Ben Zimmer over at Word Routes has a post on one of the most disputed word histories ever, that of jazz. Was it first used for baseball, music, or something else? In San Francisco, New Orleans, or elsewhere? The earliest known use of the word supports the baseball/Bay Area theory: “Ben Henderson, a pitcher for the Portland Beavers (another Pacific Coast League team), dubbed a lively pitch his ‘jazz ball,’ according to the Los Angeles Times of April 2, 1912.” It was popularized by San Francisco Bulletin sportswriter E.T. “Scoop” Gleeson, who explained the term in a March 6, 1913 report from the spring training camp of the San Francisco Seals:
What is the “jazz”? Why, it’s a little of that “old life,” the “gin-i-ker,” the “pep,” otherwise known as enthusiasalum. A grain of “jazz” and you feel like going out and eating your way through Twin Peaks. It’s that spirit which makes ordinary ball players step around like Lajoies and Cobbs.
The earliest known New Orleans reference had been from the June 20, 1918 Times-Picayune, but Ben has turned up an earlier one, from Nov. 14, 1916: “The writer takes the opportunity to give New Orleans the proper credit for the origination of ‘jas bands’: ‘Any one ever having frequented the “tango belt” of New Orleans knows that the real home of the “jas bands” is right here.’” (You can see a reproduction of the article at Ben’s post.) So for now, the credit for the term rests with “the peppy baseball players of San Francisco,” but who knows what further archival research will turn up? Stay tuned!
Incidentally, “Lajoie” is Nap Lajoie, whose French-Canadian name is properly pronounced LAZH-away (i.e., that’s how he himself and those who knew him said it); I don’t understand why Wikipedia gives the pronunciation as “[la-ZHWAH, or often la-ZHWAY, per the Canadian French pronunciation; or, as he himself usually pronounced it, LAJ-a-way].” Surely the order should be reversed; people who say “la-ZHWAH” know French better than baseball history.