"Jinx" etymology

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Tue Jan 13 03:53:38 UTC 2004

>    CAPTAIN JINKS is EXTREMELY implausible?  I strongly disagree.  The
> song was so very popular, and Jinks was The Curse of the Army.  The song
> repeatedly says so.  Jinks is a bad luck fellow.

The song doesn't say, "Jinks is the curse of the army." AFAIK, the song (in
one version) says that some officers said, "That's the curse of the army."
My best guess is that the meaning is "The presence of incompetent cowardly
fops (such as Capt. Jinks) is a serious problem for the army." Of course
this is humorous/light.

But suppose for the sake of argument that Capt. Jinks himself really is
being referred to as "the curse of the army." I still don't believe that
there's the slightest evidence of this characterization being transferred.
The song also says Capt. Jinks is a dancing teacher, enjoys the company of
young girls, is a big spender, etc., but I think the popular concept of
Capt. Jinks was "military buffoon" and these other things are
inconsequential for our purposes. Sherlock Holmes played the violin and
used cocaine, but I believe the transferred sense of the name is always
"detective" and never "violinist" or "cocaine user".

Furthermore "X is the curse of organization Y" typically employs "curse" in
a 'figurative' sense and does not carry any supernatural implication, while
"jinx" or "hoodoo" refers to a carrier of bad luck. If I don't believe in
magic or bad luck I can still say "Smith is a curse to our bowling team; he
usually shows up late and he bowls badly and he has bad breath." This is
different from "Brown is a jinx/hoodoo/jonah to our bowling team; he bowls
well and he's a pleasant fellow, but whenever he's present we lose ... just
bad luck, I guess."

[Note that I am not applying a double standard in accepting Jinks Hoodoo
("a curse to everybody") while rejecting the good captain. I don't know
whether the "curse" in the 1888 description of Mr. Hoodoo is 'figurative'
in this exact instance ... but I do know that the play involves real magic
... and I have presented one example of Jinks Hoodoo's name being used with
approximately the sense "jinx" very close to the apparent birth of our
"jinx" word (ca. 1908).]

But maybe I'm wrong: maybe the popular conception of Capt. Jinks included a
malign supernatural influence. I've read the "Captain Jinks" novel and the
"Captain Jinks" play; I've searched the online papers and books. I am still
waiting for either of the following: (1) an indication from the literature
of the period that Captain Jinks -- or _a_ 'Captain Jinks' -- suffered or
caused remarkable bad luck (as opposed to having an unfavorable effect by
virtue of plain non-supernatural incompetence and cowardice); (2) an early
example of "Captain Jinks" being used like "jinx" or "hoodoo" (or even
"Jinks Hoodoo") to mean "carrier of bad luck" or so. If anybody has either
of these things handy, please let me know.

-- Doug Wilson

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