[Ads-l] janky (1989)

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Sun Sep 8 14:01:27 EDT 2019

On Sun, Sep 8, 2019 at 1:04 PM Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com>

> You'll have observed that "janky-ass" in the quote needn't have anything to
> do with luck.

The whole "Harlem Nights" scene is about how the gambler thinks the kid is
bringing him bad luck (and is willing to knife him over it), so I'd say
there's a high probability that there's a semantic connection (esp. in the
collocation "janky-ass bad-luck motherfucker").

On Thu, Sep 5, 2019 at 4:42 PM Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:

> GDoS relates "janky" to a noun "jankie" defined as "bad luck." That
> squares with Clarence Major's 1994 book "Juba to Jive," where "janky" is
> listed as a noun meaning "bad luck," which Major surmises is derived from a
> variant of "jinxed."
> I found a 1989 example that also relates "janky" to bad luck, from the
> movie "Harlem Nights." In an early scene, Richard Pryor's character Sugar
> Ray is running a dice game, and a toothless gambler (played by Ji-Tu
> Cumbuka) flips out about a boy in the room bringing him bad luck. The boy
> (Quick Brown, played by Desi Arnez Hines II -- Eddie Murphy plays him when
> he grows up) ends up shooting the gambler, but before that happens, the
> gambler threatens to knife him by saying:
> "I'll definitely stick this little janky-ass bad-luck motherfucker
> standing here."
> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBOq0nY1rQE (at around 1:30)
> The scene in the movie is set in 1918, so the use of the word is a tad
> anachronistic, but it's useful for reconstructing how "janky" emerged in
> African American slang by the late '80s. (Eddie Murphy wrote the screenplay
> for "Harlem Nights," but I don't know if it was in the original script or
> improvised on the spot by Cumbuka.)

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list