Jinx and Jody.

Dave Wilton at Wordorigins.org has been posting Big List updates pretty much daily (and he’s started a Patreon, if you want to support his good work), and the latest two are so interesting I thought I’d share them here.


A jinx is a person or thing that carries bad luck with it. The origin of the Americanism is not quite certain, but it most likely comes from the name of a character in a very popular play at the turn of the twentieth century. The major dictionaries, however, all give tentative etymologies relating to the bird known as the wryneck or jynx because of its use in magic and casting spells. But the avian etymology has significant problems, and there is a clear trail of lexical evidence leading from the play to the word jinx that has been uncovered by researcher Douglas Wilson.

The play is Little Puck, produced by and starring comic actor Frank Daniels and written by Archibald C. Gunter. It debuted in New York in 1888 and, although today it is all but forgotten, it was tremendously successful, with touring companies and revivals throughout the United States of the next two decades. Among the cast of characters was this role, originally played by actor Harry Mack:

Jinks Hoodoo, esq. a curse to everybody…..Harry Mack

At the turn of the twentieth century, Jinks was commonly used as the name of comical characters in theater and in jokes.

Jinks Hoodoo quickly caught on as a nickname for someone who brought bad luck. […]


In the American military a jody or jody call is a marching or running cadence. Such marching cadences have been around for as long as soldiers have gone off to war, but the term jody dates to the mid twentieth century. Their lyrics cover a wide variety of topics, but the archetype is about a civilian named Jody who has stolen the soldier’s girl-back-home. Jody dates to World War II in military use, but it has roots in Black slang from slightly earlier.

Jody is a blend of the phrase Joe the Grinder, the name of the seducer. Joe is obviously a generic, male name, and the verb to grind has been slang meaning to copulate from the sixteenth century through to the present day.

The name Joe the Grinder is first recorded in 1939 in a blues song sung by Irvin “Gar Mouth” Lowry of Varner, Arkansas. But in Lowry’s song, it is the singer who identifies himself as Joe the Grinder; he is the wronged man, not the seducer. He is working away from home, perhaps in prison, although that’s not stated, and his girlfriend has left him. The roles may be reversed, but the song’s lyrics has all the elements of a military jody […] At some point before 1944 Joe the Grinder made the jump from seducing the wives and girlfriends of prisoners to those of servicemen. […] In making the transition from prison to the military Joe the Grinder was reduced down to Jody, but the full Joe the Grinder hung around in Black civilian slang.

More details, obviously, at the links (and very interesting they are); I was aware of the term jody (a prototypical example), but I had no idea about Joe the Grinder.


  1. In case like me you were wondering, “hoodoo” predates Little Puck by a few decades.

    John Jinks went AWOL for a vital vote in the Irish Parliament in 1927, but I don’t believe the press made any puns about it.

  2. Full Metal Jacket seems so entrenched as the canonical American movie about basic training, that when watching Stripes* (particular the jody call scene), it feels like Stripes is parodying Full Metal Jacket—when, in fact, Stripes came out six years earlier. Part of this may be due to the fact that Full Metal Jacket takes place earlier, in 1967–1968, during the Vietnam War, while Stripes clearly took place in the then-present day, the time of the “Be All That You Can Be” Army.

    * Part of what makes Stripes work is that, while there is a ton of silliness from Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and the raft of other talented comedic actors (including John Candy, John Laroquette, and Judge Reinhold, among others), some elements of the military setting are played completely straight. Warren Oates portrays the drill sergeant (who is by far the most skillful and competent individual in the film) as if he were in a drama, responding basically the way an NCO actually would to the clowning by the members of his platoon. Similarly, the movie has an orchestral score by Elmer Bernstein, which sounds just as unironically heroic as Bernstein’s music for The Magnificent Seven or The Great Escape.

  3. John Emerson says

    The comic strip Beetle* Bailey was about the 50s peacetime army and featured a bunch of goofballs putting in their time. By about 1968 its premise became untenable, and a parody cartoon showed goofy, lovable old Beetle getting blown up.

    *No relation to the Beatles.

  4. William Boyd says

    “Southpaw” primed me for the upcoming baseball season (we’ve single A team here in Fredericksburg with the stadium ~1.25 miles from our home). ‘Course, the plan is to elucidate a friend or two on the word’s likely origins as we enjoy the action on the field.

  5. jinx, int.–Word of the day at OED online

  6. Thank you for this post, Hat! Both these etymologies are delightful. I hope someone with better markup chops than mine will update the etymology for jinx in the Wiktionary. The way American lexicography is going, I don’t think Merriam-Webster or the AHD will ever get this etymology online.

    Language Hat readers shouldn’t miss the link, buried in the Wordorigins post sources list, to the Lomax recording of Irvin “Gar Mouth” Lowry’s performance of “Joe the Grinder” (along with notes on the venue of the performance):


  7. I confess I hadn’t listened to that “Gar Mouth” Lowry audio, but now I have, so thanks for that!

  8. ktschwarz has a very interesting discussion of the supposed “jynx” etymology at Wordorigins:

    The derivation from the bird jynx appears in the 1976 OED Supplement (Internet Archive scan), and before that in Webster’s 7th New Collegiate Dictionary (1965), which is abridged from Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (1961), and also in the American Heritage Dictionary (1969). So who was following who? Or were they all following somebody more obscure?

    The answer is: the bird etymology comes from A Concise Etymological Dictionary of Modern English by Ernest Weekley (revised edition, 1952; Hathitrust). All subsequent dictionaries have cribbed heavily from this book. Weekley was a professor in England with a Victorian education in European languages, eminently qualified to analyze cognates and borrowings from French, German, Latin, and Greek, not so much for new American slang. It looks like he got infatuated with finding something that looked like jinx in his Greek and Latin dictionaries, and in 1952 he wouldn’t have had any way to track down the real citation trail in American newspapers, even if he’d thought of trying. It didn’t occur to him to question whether California baseball writers would have known an obscure Greek name for a bird that doesn’t even exist in America!

    Original etymological research is really beyond the scope of mass-market dictionaries, so I can’t fault them too much for all copying each other, but I’m a little surprised the OED wasn’t more careful. I guess 1976 was a long time ago, and finding citations in 19th-century newspapers was so difficult then that it must have been unthinkable to go back and recheck something that seemed to be solved. We can do better now.


  9. ktschwarz says

    Of course that generalization about mass-market dictionaries was too pessimistic, and at least should have been qualified with “except for AHD”. I should have known better considering how many times Language Hat has celebrated the contributions to etymology there by Patrick Taylor, most recently Sasquatch. My apologies to Patrick. And hurray, his update to sasquatch is official!

  10. Excellent news!

  11. In related news, Jonathon Green has incorporated into his dictionary Owlmirror’s recent antedating of gimmick, and some other words from the same source.

  12. ktschwarz has provided the missing link between “Jinks” and “jinx” in the Wordorigins thread linked in the post:

    Peter Reitan just posted these quotes on ADS-L, both from 1910:

    “It wouldn’t be hard to put a jinks on this club,” he told himself confidently. “There’s a dozen of ‘em scared t’ death of a wagonload of empty barrels. Miller – he’s th’ limit, McGuigan’s a nut himself. By gad, I’d like t’ do it; old gold-digger’d never know – get ‘em jinksed – set ‘em down a couple o’ games.” (Saturday Evening Post)


    Unlucky Josh Devore. . . . “Ask any of McGraw’s men who is the most unfortunate ball player in the business and Devore will be the answer. Josh says somebody has ‘Jinksed’ him. (Buffalo Enquirer)

    And then a couple of other commenters followed up with citations of “put a jinks on” from 1904. That clinches it: “jinks” preceded “jinx”. I think we can mark this one as solved. Well done, ADS-L.

    The early 1900s seems to be a sweet spot for rediscoveries like this, and “jazz”, and “whole nine yards”: old enough that the true origin was beyond living memory, but recent enough that documentation survived in newspapers, just waiting to be found.

  13. Oops, sorry, I misunderstood Peter Reitan’s news. What he found was an antedating of “jinksed” as a verb, not “jinks” as a noun, which was already known to be older. Both “Jinks Hoodoo” (in a baseball context) and “put a jinks on” had been discovered many years ago by Doug Wilson and included in the writeup at World Wide Words:

    His accident was the climax of a string of hard luck, outpitching his opponents and then losing games by one run day after day and other “Mr. Jinks Hoodoo” stunts.
    Sporting Life, 29 Aug. 1903

    Any one who can furnish reliable information leading to the conviction of the miscreant who put a “jinks” on the Los Angeles baseball club’s batting eyes last spring will likely receive a free pass for the rest of the season by advising Manager Morley.
    Los Angeles Times, 12 July 1904

    So every step of the development, Jinks Hoodoo > jinks > jinx, was already nailed down.

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