Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Jun 25 15:25:32 UTC 2000

Just came across the below item in the current (24 Jun 00) issue of Michael
Quinion's weekly "World Wide Words" e-column.  I find the story (based on
the OED version:  s.v. JUKE, 2) plausible enough, but the first cite (in
Time magazine) seems quite unlikely; the
first-cite-in-national-newsweeklies always seems to dissolve on closer
inspection. Anyone (Fred?  Barry?  Jerry?) have an earlier 'juke-box' cite
on you, or an amendment to the derivation?  It's a nice etymology for class
and I want to make sure it's not too far off-base.


P.S.  The OED does offer one slightly earlier cite (1937, Florida Rev.) for
the obviously related 'jook organ'.

Q. I've always been a word junkie and love finding sites like
yours. I've been looking for the origin of the word 'jukebox' for
some time. Do you have an answer? [Sue Katz]

A. Yes, but it requires some delving into creoles, West African
languages, and a bit of low-life.

Creoles are languages that arise spontaneously when people without
a tongue in common have to work and live together. The first stage
is a pidgin, a simplified amalgam of elements from the colliding
languages; a creole is a pidgin that has gone up in the world and
become a mother tongue. There are many examples in and around the
Americas, including several in the Caribbean, and (most relevantly
for your question) in the Sea Islands off the Carolinas, where
Gullah is spoken. This is a creole of English and several West
African languages that were brought in by slaves in the eighteenth

In Gullah, there is a word 'jook' or 'joog', which means disorderly
or wicked. This comes from one of these West African languages,
either from Bambara 'dzugu', meaning wicked, or from Wolof 'dzug',
to live wickedly. (As you may guess, these languages are related.
Both are members of the Niger-Congo group; Wolof is in effect the
national language of Senegal, and is also spoken in Gambia; Bambara
is a dialect of Mandekan, the administrative language of the old
empire of Mali, now an official language of Mali and an important
trade language in the area.)

The Gullah word appeared in the Black English 'jook house' for a
disorderly house, often a combination of brothel, gaming parlour
and dance hall, sometimes just a shack off the road where you could
get a drink of moonshine, sometimes a tavern or roadhouse providing
music and the like. This was shortened back to 'jook' and is
recorded in this form from the 1930s, though - in the way of such
matters - it is almost certainly much older.

The jukebox was invented in the late 1930s to provide music in
those jooks that didn't have their own bands. The first recorded
appearance of the word was in - of all places - _Time_ magazine, in
1939: "Glenn Miller attributes his crescendo to the 'juke-box',
which retails recorded music at 5c a shot in bars, restaurants and
small roadside dance joints". It's gone up in price a bit since,
but next time you see one, think of the long linguistic journey
implied by its name.

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