"Jinx" etymology #4

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Jan 11 01:35:48 UTC 2004

A few subsidiary questions about the ancestry of "jinx" occur to me. Some
of them may not be answerable.

(1) Why was the character in "Little Puck" (1888) named Jinks Hoodoo?

I don't know. I haven't been able to locate a copy of the play. The play,
attributed to A. C. Gunter, was based on two novels by F. Anstey, _Vice
Versa_ (1881, I think) and _A Fallen Idol_ (1886, I think). The first of
these involves the magical swapping of bodies between a prosperous
businessman and his schoolboy son. The second is the story of an Indian
idol which has supernatural powers and which gives very bad luck to its
owner. I've read both novels, and I didn't identify any name like "Jinks
Hoodoo" in either. These are British novels set in London, I believe.
"Jinks" looks like a first name here; it is usually a surname, but there
are persons with first name Jinx/Jinks (I can't usually distinguish whether
a nickname), and there were in the 19th century too. If the character was
labeled "a curse to everybody" it is conceivable that "hoodoo" meant
"curse" and "Jinks" (which is indistinguishable in speech from its own
possessive form "Jinks'") meant "everybody['s]" [Jinks was an "everyman's"
name] ... but this is just one idle notion arising from my ignorance. There
is of course the possibility of the name having been taken intact from some
earlier entertainment such as a vaudeville act.

(2) Did the name Jinks Hoodoo have any part in the origin or evolution of
the word "hoodoo" = "carrier of bad luck"?

I don't know. The play apparently was written in 1887 or possibly 1886, and
HDAS shows "hoodoo" = "curse" (sense 1) several years earlier, but HDAS
shows "hoodoo" = "carrier of bad luck" (sense 2) only from 1889. There is a
sometimes subtle distinction between a curse and its vehicle. The fictional
surname "Hoodoo" must have been taken from one of the senses of "hoodoo"
but I can't tell which one.

(3) When and how/why did the name "Jinks" become detached from "Hoodoo" and
begin its solitary career?

As I said in my earlier posting, I believe that if this "jinx" occurred
much before 1908 it was in a restricted environment. It may be that as the
musical comedy became forgotten (it ran as late as 1894 to my knowledge,
but I don't know how long or how widely it was remembered) the expression
"Jinks Hoodoo", being synonymous with "hoodoo", came to look like a
reduplication and thus "jinks" alone was taken as synonymous with "hoodoo".
Surely "Jinks Hoodoo" doesn't look/sound like a person's name in isolation.

Here is an interesting sidelight, especially given that the earliest
sighting of our "jinx" (1908) is in the horse racing environment of "A.
Mutt". There was a race horse in the 1890's named Hoodoo, and she had four
offspring, named Jinks (born 1896, I think), Mesmerist, Hatasoo, and
Spellbound. Sometimes colts are named according to a theme, and there seem
to be at least two themes here: "Mesmerist" = "hypnotist" would have been
virtually synonymous with "hoodoo [man]" according to the ideas of the time
(I think); "Spellbound" goes with "Hoodoo" by virtue of meaning; "Hatasoo"
was apparently the name of an Egyptian queen but presumably it was chosen
here for phonetic and/or orthographic qualities (Hoodoo had close relatives
named Hindoo and Hoodlum); but whence "Jinks"? I speculate that this choice
reflects the name Jinks Hoodoo, or (if the detachment had already occurred
in racetrack jargon by 1896) the identity of meaning between "jinks" and

-- Doug Wilson

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