Mike Salovesh t20mxs1 at CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU
Sun Dec 10 00:23:04 UTC 2000

Drew Danielson wrote:

> Regarding "urban variety: I am by no means a technical expert in this
> area and am not prepared to speak about specifics, but I notice a
> certain differences among the word choices & vocalizations of rural
> southern, urban southern, urban northeastern, urban midwestern, and
> urban West Coast African Americans.  Some of these seem to be related to
> similar regionalistic differences among Americans of European
> extraction, while others probably evolved independently (e.g., the use
> of "jitney" to mean taxicab in Pittsburgh).

Historical note on jitney, which certainlhy is not limited to Pittsburgh

"Jitney", another word for a five cent piece (nickle), also means
taxicab in Chicago AAVE.  The term transferred to white Chicagoese a
long time ago, with a slight change in meaning..

The quintessential jitney was a passenger car driving a north-south
fixed route on South Park Way (now King Drive). South Park Way was the
main drag of the South Side branch of Chicago's black ghetto. Jitneys
were multi-passenger arrangements. A would-be passenger would wave, the
car would stop, and the passenger would get in for a straight ride to a
destination farther along on South Park Way.  The fare (in the
depression, and for a short time after WW II) was five cents.  Adult
fares on the public transit system (Chicago Motor Coach lines and other
private companies) were six cents in the depression, ten cents just
after WW II, as I recall.

Jitneys operated on other major streets in the ghetto.  I'm sure they
were on Garfield Boulevard/55th Street, because I used them; I think I
recall that there were jitneys working along Washington Boulevard on the
West Side, and I'm sure there must have been other routes in other parts
of the ghetto.

Jitneys once operated on major streets in segregated white
neighborhoods, too.  That ended by the 1920s.  In that decade, there was
a major war among taxicab operators, which ended with the mob-dominated
Parmalee Company getting a virtual monopoly on taxicab licenses
throughout the city.  (Parmalee came to own the two major cab companies,
Yellow and Checker, as well as their specialized service taking
passengers between Chicago's many railroad stations.) When the taxicab
wars were over, generic white Chicago English applied the word "jitney"
to unlicensed cabs (often running under the cover of limousine
companies) at the bottom rung of Chicago's taxi services.

Generally speaking, the outfit (that's Chicagoan for the insiders of
crime) left ghetto jitneys alone.  Getting into that market apparently
was not as important to them as maintaining segregation: they did not
hire black drivers as a matter of policy.  White drivers tended to avoid
black passengers and were reluctant to drive in black neighborhoods.

By the 1940s, the word "jitney" in the sense of a five-cent piece was
close to obsolete in Chicago.  When the price of a ride in a jitney
(cab) went up, I never heard anybody speak of a "dimer" or a
"two-bitney", and I don't recall anyone saying very much about the
contradiction of taking a 25 cent ride in a nickle vehicle.  (That's not
too surprising: the term "five and dime", for a variety store whose
original merchandise cost five or ten cents, long outlasted the virtual
disappearance of items at that price.)

-- mike salovesh                    <salovesh at niu.edu>

P.S.: Compare Random House on jitney:  "1.  a small bus or car following
a regular route along which it picks up and discharges passengers,
originally charging each passenger five cents.  2.  __Older slang__ a
nickel; five-cent piece."

Maybe my New Year's resolution should be to look in a good dictionary
before trying to come up with my own definitions.  (But I did look in my
old microprint 2-volume OED . . .  with no success.)

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