Mike Salovesh t20mxs1 at CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU
Thu Jul 29 05:51:11 UTC 1999

Mark_Mandel at DRAGONSYS.COM wrote, quoting an earlier message from James
E. Clapp:
> >>>
> Am I the only one who assumed the etymology was from "jay" = bird?  I see
> that the OED says this is from jay = simpleton, but it just seems so much
> more logical to me that a jaywalker is one who walks out into the street
> with the obliviousness of a jaybird.  I know this is how folk etymologies
> arise, but I just wonder:  How firm is the "simpleton" etymology?
> <<<
> *Are* jaybirds (= blue jays?) notoriously oblivious? Brash and unmusical, but
> oblivious?
> -- Mark

Family tradition stuck me with a different folk etymology for "jaywalk":
starting out in a proper straight line, but then curving off in another
direction, as in the shape of the letter J.  As my parents explained,
you had to follow that kind of curve if you were going to cross a street
in the middle of a block.

There is a folk song that clearly supports OED on jay = simpleton.  The
relevant line goes "The man was right for telling me I was a howlin' jay
. . . "  (I'll quote a verse or two as a postscript.)

The song was on an early Bob Gibson Lp (Elektra Records) called "I come
for to sing".    Bob learned the song in the 1950's at the Memorial
Union on the Indiana U campus, Bloomington.  His source was another
banjo player, a grad student in anthropology at Indiana named Bob Black
-- and I'm pretty sure Bob Black found the song in a book dated before
the mid-1920s or even earlier.

I first sang the song with Bob Black in the IU Union during a party at
the 1957 Central States Anthropological Society meetings.  (A year or so
later, I sang it with Bob Gibson on a gig in San Francisco.) There was a
special reason why I had to re-learn the song last year.  I thought it
was ironic that I picked the song up again by listening to the Bob
Gibson recording.

--  mike salovesh             <salovesh at niu.edu>        PEACE !!!

P.S.:  The song begins

        "I started on a journey just about a year ago
         To a little town named Morrow in the state of Ohio
         I've never been much of a traveler and I really didn't know
         That Morrow was the hardest place I'd ever tried to go."

To synopsize: the song follows what happens when the passenger wants "to
know how I can  go to Morrow and return, no later than tomorrow for I
haven't time to burn."  After a complicated exchange of insults with the
ticket agent, the passenger finally learns that "You cannot take the
train to Morrow any more today, for the train that goes to Morrow is a
mile upon its way.  You should have gone to Morrow yesterday, now don't
you see, for the train that went to Morrow got back here today at
three."  "Well, what he said filled me with dread and made me want to
swear, for the train had gone to Morrow and had left me standing there.
The man was right for telling me I was a howlin' jay, so if I cannot go
tomorrow why I guess in town I'll stay."

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