"Jinx" etymology #3

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sat Jan 10 22:33:45 UTC 2004

One peculiarity of our "jinx" is that it came into existence as an exact
synonym of the earlier "hoodoo" = "carrier of bad luck" (sense 2 of
"hoodoo" in my OED). "Hoodoo" itself first become common in this sense
around 1886-7, in baseball and other contexts, although "hoodoo" = "voodoo
[practitioner]"/"magic[ian]" (my OED's sense 1, I think) occurred earlier.
Around 1910 "jinx" began to alternate with "hoodoo" and I guess they're
still synonymous in this usage. Before either, there was "Jonah" in roughly
the same sense ("carrier of bad luck") (but less common, I believe).

Occasionally one might see something like this, from a short piece about
lonely widowed persons becoming acquainted on Friday the 13th in 1913
(_Indianapolis Star_, 14 June 1913): "It would not be fair to give their
names ... for who knows Mr. Hoodoo Jinx might find them out and try to
spoil the match." But one would assume "Mr. Hoodoo Jinx" here is just a
humorous personification and reduplication, analogous to "Mr. Bunny Rabbit"
which means nothing much more than [male] "bunny" or "rabbit".

But what about this item?


_Nevada State Journal_, 4 Apr. 1906: p. 8, col. 3:

<<Harrison is evidently a child of misfortune. He seems to be the only
original "Jinks Hoodoo." Wherever there is a brick house to fall, Harrison
is there to furnish a cushion, but not to tumble. Wherever there is a
cloudburst, Harrison does the wet-dog act.>>


{Just another meaningless reduplication?}

But look at the date: it's too early by about two years.

{But maybe "jinks" meant "hoodoo" already? It's only two years.}

Maybe, but take a look at this:


_New York Daily Tribune_, 18 Jan. 1888: p. 4, col. 6:

<<Jinks Hoodoo, esq., a curse to everybody>>


The name Jinks Hoodoo was evidently analogous to Al Capp's much later Joe
Btfsplk ("the world's biggest jinx").

Apparently the name Jinks Hoodoo predated our "jinx" by about twenty years,
with very similar sense.

The origin is apparently in a play, "Little Puck", and the _Tribune_
quotation is excerpted from the cast list. The _New York Times_ carried
mention of this musical comedy on 17 Jan. 1888 (p. 5, col. 4). One can also
find Jinks Hoodoo mentioned in the _Brooklyn Daily Eagle_ and elsewhere online.

I think it is VERY likely that "Jinks Hoodoo" meaning "carrier of bad luck"
is the direct ancestor of "jinx" with similar meaning.

A few questions remain.

-- Doug Wilson

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