jazz--its etymological treatment in the _Cambridge Companion to Jazz_, 2002

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Tue Mar 25 23:27:41 UTC 2003

   I'm grateful to George Thompson for drawing attention to _The
Cambridge Companion to Jazz_ (edited by Mervyn Cooke and David Horn),
Cambridge U Press, 2002. I assume the book will receive very
favorable reviews, but I'm interested only in its etymological
treatment of "jazz," and this aspect of the book is troubling.

    The main problem is that Krin Gabbard, author of the chapter "The
Word Jazz," is not involved in word studies and evidently made no
attempt to contact those of us who do work in the field.  A call to
the American Dialect Society or perhaps specifically to any of the
fine lexicographers on our list would have quickly led him to recent
research into the term. Several of us could have helped him avoid the
pitfalls he repeatedly lands in.

     For example (p.3), Gabbard writes: "The word jazz almost surely
began in African-American slang,..."  No. The first attestations are
in a baseball context, possibly deriving from a crap-shooting
incantation.  And there is nothing in the crap-shooting story to
indicate the race of the person who uttered the incantation "Come on,
the old jazz".

    Still on p. 3: "The shift from 'jass' to 'jazz' is also impossible
to explain with certainty."  There's nothing to explain.  The term is
first attested as "jazz."

    Page 3: "According to several researchers, the earliest appearance
of the word jazz in written form was probably in San Francisco
newspapers. In 1913, Ernest J. Hopkins offered this definition:
'something like life, vigor, energy,...' When the word began showing
up on the sports pages of the _San Francisco Bulletin, also in 1913,
the term regularly appeared in the column by 'Scoop' Gleeson. ..."
---   The word didn't *also* start appearing on the  sports pages of
the S.F. Bulletin; it *first* appeared there (March 3 and 6, 1913).
Hopkins' article came a month later (April 5, 1913).

    Meanwhile, p.xiii, "A brief chronology of jazz" says:
"1908...--Freddie Keppard takes his New Orleans jazz on tour."  Then
in 1913: "The word 'jazz' appears for the first time."  If Keppard
took his New Orleans jazz on tour in 1908, why does the term turn up
in print only in 1913?  Wouldn't some written evidence of the term
have appeared in connection with the tour?

    Note the subtitle of "Hopkins' April 5, 1913 article: "In Praise
of 'Jazz," a Futurist Word Which Has Just Joined the Language." --
Just joined the language.
That means 1913,  specifically in Scoop Gleeson's articles (where it
meant "pep, vim, vigor, fighting spirit).

     In short, the etymological treatment of "jazz" in the Cambridge
book is a scholarly embarrassment, unnecessarily so. Ads-l is willing
to help; we just need to be contacted.

Gerald Cohen

P.S.   It would have been nice if the author or editors mentioned
Peter Tamony, who pioneered the study of the term "jazz."  There's no
mention of Tamony's publications on "jazz" in the extensive
bibliography at the end of the book.

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