Mexican jumping beans (was Re: Random notes on "The Bizarre notes and queries" 1890 - Google Books)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Wed Feb 10 18:06:05 UTC 2010

On Wed, Feb 10, 2010 at 10:49 AM, Mullins, Bill AMRDEC wrote:
>  [Victor Steinbok wrote:]
> >
> > I've never heard this particular expression, but, given the time period
> > and the description, it seems to have been a reference to the "Mexican
> > jumping beans". The latter are antedated in most dictionaries (don't
> > know what the OED has) to 1885, with some to 1889. There had been some
> > question as to the identity of the species of moth involved as late as
> > 1891. But it's a trivial matter to find 1885 sources for MJB on GB.
> OED has "jumping bean" from 1889, but nothing on "Mexican jumping bean"
> until 1972 (under the entry for "jumping").

And nicely interdating 1885 and 1972 is this 1922 Max Fleischer cartoon
(entitled "Jumping Beans," though a box labeled "Mexican jumping beans" is
visible about a minute in):

IMDb suggests this cartoon originated the "Mexican jumping bean gag":

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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