Quondam Hoodoos.

As part of his Facebook series quoting 19th-century press reports of baseball games, Richard Hershberger posted a Baltimore American story from August 19, 1894, that begins:

It was a glorious day at Union Park yesterday. Nearly 7,000 people saw the Orioles wipe up the earth with their quondam hoodoos; saw the birds outplay and outbat their opponents, and win in brilliant style by the jug-handled score of 17 to 2.

Hershberger points out that the “quondam hoodoos” were the Pirates and adds:

We don’t see sports writing like that anymore! Note the out-of-town scoreboard is a chalkboard, not one of those fancy 20th century contraptions like you see at Wrigley Field. Also, calling the Baltimore team the “birds.” I’m not sure when that started, but it had taken hold by this time, at least in the Baltimore press.

I would add that the Orioles became part of the new American League in 1901 before relocating to New York City after two seasons and becoming the New York Yankees; I’ll try not to hold it against them. But my main interest, needless to say, is in the phrase “quondam hoodoos,” which is a fine example of what I called in 2020 “the rumbustious grandiloquence that has always appealed to the American soul.” Happily, the OED updated its hoodoo entry in September 2021; the etymology is “Apparently < Louisiana Creole houdou, variant of voudou, denoting the religion (compare voodoo n. 1), in English subsequently distinguished in meaning, with a shift in emphasis away from the religion, and the development of additional senses not paralleled for voodoo n.” The progression of senses is:

A. 1. a. Any of various systems of spiritual or magical practice established among certain communities in the southern United States; (also more generally) magic, witchcraft.
In early use often equated with voodoo (cf. voodoo n. 1a); later most commonly used to refer to spiritual and magical practices created among communities of enslaved Africans, incorporating elements from various religious and folk healing traditions, and sometimes equated with conjure (cf. conjure n. Additions 1).

b. figurative. Activity, practice, etc., likened in some way to this, typically in being thought to be based on magic or superstition; (with pejorative connotation) nonsense, mumbo-jumbo.

2. A believer in or practitioner of hoodoo (sense A. 1a). Also with the and plural agreement: believers in or practitioners of hoodoo, viewed collectively. Now rare.

3. a. A magic spell, typically one causing harm or misfortune; a curse, a jinx; (as a mass noun) misfortune, bad luck.

b. A person or thing thought to bring or cause bad luck.

4. U.S. A business, an affair; a to-do, a commotion, a fuss. Obsolete.

5. Originally and chiefly North American. A column or pinnacle of rock shaped by weathering, typically in arid regions, and often having a cap of harder rock; an earth pillar. Also more fully hoodoo column, hoodoo pillar, etc.

Here we have sense 3.b., the second cite for which is definitely baseball-related (and the first may be):

1882 Sun (N.Y.) 15 May 3/3 Others will not play while a certain person is present, having determined in his mind that the individual has an evil eye—or, in the language of the profession, is a ‘hoodoo’.
1900 G. Patten Rockspur Nine xx. 174 He’s a hoodoo to us whether he plays with us or against us.

The Pirates had presumably been in the habit of beating the Birds; when I saw a story in today’s Gazette about the U Mass Minutewomen basketball team beating Rhode Island, “the one A-10 team that UMass couldn’t solve,” I hollered to my wife “The Rams are their quondam hoodoos!”

Oh, and those geological hoodoos are really spectacular.


  1. Jen in Edinburgh says

    It’s a lovely phrase, but I’m more intrigued by the jug-handled score.

  2. David Marjanović says

    4. U.S. A business, an affair; a to-do, a commotion, a fuss. Obsolete.

    That seems to be the one in the Carl Barks story Voodoo hoodoo, which Dr. Erika Fuchs couldn’t quite deal with and turned into Wudu-Hudu-Zauber.

    (It features a pre-movie-era zombie.)

  3. Regarding hoodoo < voodoo, see here for a different suggestion:

  4. PlasticPaddy says

    = not properly or fairly proportioned : one-sided

  5. see here for a different suggestion

    Sounds like a crank to me. Scholars don’t write like this:

    They just copied the tired old origin, without once checking the modern etymological literature [….] To repeat: NO, hoodoo is not related etymologically as a word to voodoo. […] They are different words entirely, obviously.

    Just use ALL CAPS and repeat “obviously” and we’ll all believe you, buddy. Not.

  6. Relevant for frequent reference to hoodoo hoedown.

    IMO this album with the Magic Band v 2.0 is one of his best.

  7. @M: From the way that article started, I thought he was just going to claim that sense 5 (the geological one) was not from the same voodoo origin as the other senses. That would have seemed entirely plausible, although I don’t really have any natural feeling for how that sense of hoodoo is used in practice. In spite of the contention that it is a common term in Anglophone North America, I never picked it up in my extensive experience in the mountains of the West and Pacific Northwest. I only learned hoodoo in its geological sense grom the Role Aids third-party Advanced Dungeons & Dragons module Undead.

  8. Richard Hershberger says

    To clarify, the Orioles that joined the American League in 1901 were a different organization than those of 1894. It gets complicated, not helped by the tendency to recycle team nicknames.

    @Jen: “Jug-handled” is a moderately common expression in this era. Just guessing, but the metaphor might be of being unbalanced, like a jug with a handle on one side.

  9. Stu Clayton says

    A loaf of bread, a wazzo pair of jugs, and thou …

  10. At American Dialect Society list years ago were several references, often in a baseball context, of Jinks Hoodoo or Jinx Hoodoo, e.g., from Douglas G. Wilson:

    _Sporting Life_, 29 Aug. 1903: p. 2:


  11. J.W. Brewer says

    I’m struck by how, at least to my ear, “quondam” is from a rather different register of English than this sense (probably most senses …) of “hoodoo.” That makes their combination sound odd to my post-1890’s ear. Maybe “quondam” was current across a wider range of registers back then,* or maybe it’s an example of how, at least in some times and places, journalism is quite eclectic registerwise in terms of its lexical stock.

    *The google n-gram viewer shows a quite substantial long-term drop in the rate of “quondam” usage from c. 1840 to c. 1920, after which it restabilized at a lower level. Which is consistent with shrinkage of the range of registers in which the word is used although I guess doesn’t directly demonstrate that without digging deeper.

  12. To clarify, the Orioles that joined the American League in 1901 were a different organization than those of 1894.

    Thanks! Now I can withdraw my muffled animus against the 1894 team.

  13. The etymology section of the Wikipedia entry for ‘hoodoo’ is about the worst unedited pile of pig’s breakfast I’ve ever seen on Wikipedia, and that’s saying a lot.

  14. Good lord. And the final paragraph deserves a special prize:

    The word Hoodoo is sometimes spelled hoodoo. Recent scholarship publications spell the word with a capital letter. The word has different meanings depending on how it is spelled. Some authors spell Hoodoo with a capital letter to make a distinction from commercialized hoodoo which is spelled with a lowercase letter. Other authors have different reasons why they capitalize or lowercase the first letter.

  15. I’m struck by how, at least to my ear, “quondam” is from a rather different register of English than this sense (probably most senses …) of “hoodoo.”

    The TV Tropes term is “sophisticated as hell”, IIRC; a characteristic rhetorical device of this sort of American “rumbustious grandiloquence”.

  16. Exactly. The nineteenth century loved that kind of indiscriminate register-mixing.

  17. Richard Hershberger says

    So does this example of the late-20th/early-21st century. I occasionally threaten to write accounts of modern games in this style.

  18. Well, Hoodoo as the name of a religion is presumably cross-register, like Christianity or Chomskyism.

  19. David Eddyshaw says

    Has “Hoodoo” ever been used as the name of the religion? My (entirely subjective*) feeling is that it’s only ever been used for the witchcrafty-sorcery-zombie-style stuff that actual proponents/adherents of Voodoo as “Vodun, perfectly respectable traditional religion, thankyou very much” are (understandably) keen to downplay as being in any way central to real Voodoo.

    * Some Hatter will actually know. Probably ktschwartz.

  20. But the usage here is not any sort of capital-H Hoodoo describing some sort of system of beliefs and/or practices, but lower-case “hoodoo” describing some sort of (potentially supernatural) being or object. A count noun. As in:

    I can remember the Fourth of July
    Running through the backwoods bare
    And I can still hear my old hound dog barking
    Chasing down a hoodoo there

  21. @DE:

    “hoodoo” (no opinions on its capitalization here, just my general yiddishized practice) is one of the more common terms used by practitioners for the north american branches of afroatlantic ritual/spiritual practice. that’s been increasingly true since i started to know folks in those worlds in the 1990s. my sense* is that hoodoo (in that usage) is rooted more in the kongo lineages than the yoruba & ewe/fon ones**, with less emphasis on relationship with personalized divinities and more on rootwork and other materially-based practices.***

    * a decently-informed outsider’s understanding, which makes it quite specifically limited – less so in some ways than for vodun, candomblé, or other branches that have more rigid initiation structures; more so in others, since the caribbean and brazilian branches have been seen as significant fields of study for much longer, while the north american traditions were ignored or asserted not to exist.

    ** to follow robert farris thompson z”l ‘s account of sources and flavors of traditions, partly because he was one of my early teachers on this stuff and partly because i haven’t seen any later work that seriously challenges his.

    *** which likely has less to do with the origins of enslaved africans brought to these more northerly shores than with the constraints of operating in a largely protestant environment, where the opportunities for masking and syncretism with saints aren’t available. i assume someone’s done some comparative study on this in the caribbean (the british-, dutch-, & danish-ruled islands vs the french- & spanish-ruled ones), but i haven’t run across it;

  22. hoodoo (in that usage) is rooted more in the kongo lineages

    So perhaps we should call mystical possession by Freyja, Sif, Hel, etc. etc. “Scandi-Hoodoo”.

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