[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>
wrote:

> 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.)
>
>

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