"Jinx" etymology #2

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sat Jan 10 17:12:54 UTC 2004

"Jinx" (also spelled "jinks" and occasionally other ways) hit the
newspapers in 1910, often in baseball writing. But the earliest known
instances are in a comic strip ("A. Mutt") in 1908, with the milieu not
baseball but rather horse racing. By 1911 there are numerous instances, in
baseball and other contexts.

Is there any reason to think we've really identified the beginning of this
word's career? Might it not have been used in essentially the same sense
for 10 years prior to 1908? Or for 30 years? Hard to say for sure: large
digital databases of the future may provide more information, but a word
may occur in some specialized jargon or regional dialect without leaving
much trace.

In this case there is some reason to believe at least that "jinx" =
"carrier of bad luck" was not conventional or widely recognizable much
before 1910. For example a piece published in 1909 (I see it in the
"Sheboygan Press", 10 Aug.) by Judd Mortimer Lewis (W. G. Chapman) is
entitled "Jinks of Jinx". Here there is a pun on all three "jinks" words
used at that time ("[high] jinks", "[by] jinks", and the surname): the lead
character is named By [I suppose "Byron"] Jinx, and he plays a prank on his
wife in this episode; later she calls the police and he is embarrassed. A
fourth element of the pun could have been introduced very naturally ... but
it wasn't.

Another item: _Fort Wayne Sentinel_, 17 June 1910: "Of course every one has
heard what a baseball jinx is. It is more popularly known to the layman as
a hoodoo, but the ball players themselves call it a jinx."

Furthermore, the "arbitrary"/"ordinary" name Jinks was used in MANY jokes
in newspaper of the time and slightly earlier. For example, I reviewed 59
jokes including "Jinks" in the "Brooklyn Daily Eagle" (online) between 1876
and 1902 (most frequent 1888-1898): there were Jinks and Blinks, Jinks and
Winks, etc., etc. I did not find any tendency for Jinks to be an unlucky
character or a carrier of a curse. The jokes of the time were often corny
puns, and I would expect somebody somewhere would have said something like
"True to his name, Jinks never has any luck" or something like that. But I
didn't find any such pun.

So I believe the record is most compatible with "jinx" appearing as a
synonym of "hoodoo" = "carrier of bad luck" not long before 1908, later
becoming popularized through baseball writing in 1910-1911. Was the word
used only in racetrack jargon around 1908-1909? Maybe ... I don't know ...
but that question is not critical according to my hypothesis.

-- Doug Wilson

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