More Bay Area "jazz" (1913-16)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Fri Jun 22 19:53:48 UTC 2007

I did a quick search on "jazz" in America's Historical Newspapers
(Readex) and didn't find anything earth-shattering. Here are some
cites of possible interest, relating to the early sense of "jazz"
meaning 'pep, spirit' in the San Francisco area.

1913 _Idaho Daily Statesman_ 5 June 10/3 Now, out in San Francisco,
the most popular word is "the old jazz." It means anything you want it

This is the same article on "city slang" that Barry found a few years
ago in the June 4, 1913 Fort Wayne Sentinel:

So at least we know that this article was syndicated widely, bringing
attention to the word "jazz" far beyond San Francisco. It even spawned
another (differently worded) syndicated piece with much the same slang
in it:

1913 _Duluth News Tribune_ 22 June 10/2 Take Frisco, the great slang
factory of this broad land. Out there they ask you, "Are you jerry to
the old jazz?" meaning thereby, "Are you hep to the --" whatever you
are supposed to be hep to. "Jazz" stands for whatever you want it to.

Here are two cites for "jazz" = 'pep' from the San Jose Mercury
Herald, to add to our collection of Bay Area baseball usage (we've
already got a number of cites from 1913 onwards in the San Francisco
Bulletin, the Oakland Tribune, and other papers):

1915 _San Jose Mercury Herald_ 28 Feb. 16/6 The possibilities of
playing ball in California during the fair has saturated Bobby with an
additional amount of the old "jazz."
1916 _San Jose Mercury Herald_ 22 May 8/3 The boys behind him started
that old confidence "jazz" a-goin and Rudolph waded right through the
Alpines as though they were a mere lot of schoolboys.

One more cite that may be of interest, from a Dec. 8, 1916 San Jose
Evening News editorial entitled "The Age of Pep." It shows that the
'pep' sense of "jazz" may have been merging with the musical sense
(which was reaching national recognition in late 1916), since there's
a reference to "jangling jazz":

1916 _(San Jose) Evening News_ 8 Dec. 6/1 This is the age of pep,
ginger, jazz, punch. ... Even the most radical believer in democracy
is inclined to cultivate an aristocratic aloofness of spirit, so he
will not become utterly submerged in a turmoil of jangling jazz.

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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