[Ads-l] "in a jiffy" 1765

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Fri Aug 10 06:16:43 EDT 2018

More hints (added to the 1765 antedating below) that "in a jiffy" may have had its origin in sailor slang (as did the earlier "in a trice").

1789 "Whereupon, in a giffy, Jem Cuffe, Brought his bum to an anchor near Harry."   Both Sides of the Gutter...Dublin, p. 15 GB full view.

1791"...And off again in half a jiff* [*footnote:] Jiffy or jiffy, a jocular expression,
and means a short space of time. Innumerable are the expressions (particularly amongst sailors)
to shew what expedition may be...[other examples follow]. Edward Nairne, Poems,
Miscellaneous and Humorous...Canterbury, pp. 66-7 ECCO.

1794  "...[aboard ship with] a gale coming on. Each man threw on his stormy-weather jacket
and jumped forward in a jiffy."
Columbian Centinel, Boston, April 5, p. 2. Am.Hist.Newsp.

1836  "and he bouts ship in a jiffy"--Th. C. Haliburton, The Clockmaker, or, The sayings and doings of Samuel Slick...[a Nova Scotia character],

p. 154  HathiTrust.

From: American Dialect Society <...> on behalf of Stephen Goranson <...>
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Subject: [ADS-L] "in a jiffy" 1765

Here’s a slight antedating of “in a jiffy.” It may (or may not) be worth noting that this is sea-related and that some later uses are sailor-related. 1765. The Disappointed Coxcomb. A Comedy in Five Acts, by Bartholomew Bourgeois, (via ECCO) page 28 [women want his rings]:

MISS HARTSHORN: But Seaweed, won’t you give your old acquaintance no bauble among the rest–what is this topaz too? (Pointing to one of his rings.

SEAWEED: That is an amethyst, my gull, or a petrified plum, which you will——–Blast ’em, I see I shall be unrigg’d in a jiffy, if I don’t close haul (Aside.

Stephen Goranson


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