[Ads-l] jitney etymology, a bit more info

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Wed Jul 20 11:46:54 UTC 2016

The antedatings of jitney (1899) and jetney (1898), as well as the 1915 memory of jetnée may show the origin in Black Lousiana French, from jeton.

But...there's more. In 1915 there was not only the article mentioned below, but a flurry of articles in response to published invitations to explain the word. Many guesses were offered from many languages.

Some bibliography (in addition to American Speech entries and Anatoly Liberman's listing of earlier Gold versions):

Also in Literary Digest 50 (1915), Feb. 13 p. 302-3 and  Ap.3 p. 774-7 (p. 776 fwiw "I first heard the word 'jitney' in 1894 and the negroes used the word 'jitsey' [sic] as much or more than 'jitney' at that time.....'jit' for five cents.")

Carlos A. Schwantes, "The West Adapts the Automobile: Technology, Unemployment, and the Jitney Phenomenon of 1914-1917," Western Historical Quarterly 16 (1985) 307-26, adds much bibliography, includes French jeton, and states "It remains today an etymological riddle."

In Gold's long 2009 title the parenthetical ending on gathering grain refers not to a jitney association with gathering grain, but a change in subject, the difficulty of gathering evidence (wheat, chaff).

Stephen Goranson

From: American Dialect Society <...> on behalf of Stephen Goranson <...>
Sent: Sunday, July 3, 2016 9:46 AM
Subject: [ADS-L] (reposted with typos corrected) Re: jitney--etymology and antedating

Previously I antedated jitney to 1899 [1]:

Morning Herald, page Page 4, iss. 349, December 16, 1899
Lexington, Kentucky
Election So Quiet This Pair of "Heavy-Enders" Didn't Know it Was on - A Little Tramp

"Can't spare de change. Me granmaw died in Sout' Afriky an' I need dis
to float me over ter de fun'ral"
"Quit yer kiddin' an' let me have a jitney"

In the May 1, 1915 Literary Digest, Frank H. Vizetelly, "The Lexicographer's Easy Chair" p. 1062,
col 2-3 reported:

"To Troop-Sergeant George Washington Lee we owe the reminder of a little catch popular with the
Louisiaian French-Speaking negro:
Mettons jetnée danz il trou
Et parcourons sur la rue--
Mettons jetnée--si non vous
Vous promenez à pied nou!
This may be freely translated:
Put a jitney in the slot
And over the street you ride;
Put a jitney--for if not
You'll foot it on your hide.
...." [But the whole article is worth reading, including the proposal that the word was "coined
by Southern negros for a nickel" and influenced by French jeton or jetton.]

The following newly-reported discovery appears to confirm such an origin by giving--in an
African-American newspaper in 1898--a transitional form.

Illinois Record, Springfield IL, [America's Historical Newspapers] Jan 29, 1898, p. 3 col. 5
"Spingfield South-End Happenings":
"What little jetney coachman on S. 6th street has such a big head he cant put on the coachman's
hat he only wears the coat with brass buttons?"

Note association with coach as well as (presumably) coin (or token), of little worth.

[For previous discussion and bibliography--though citing Vizetelly in a 1932 reprint--David L. Gold,
"9. American English jitney 'five-cent coin; sum of five cents' Has No Apparent Jewish or Russian
Connection and May Come from (Black?) Louisiana French jetnée (On the Increasing Difficulty of
Harvesting All the Grain)" in Studies in Etymology and Etiology....2009.]

Stephen Goranson

[1] https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__listserv.linguistlist.org_pipermail_ads-2Dl_2009-2DMarch_089013.html&d=CwIFAw&c=imBPVzF25OnBgGmVOlcsiEgHoG1i6YHLR0Sj_gZ4adc&r=uUVa-8oDL2EzfbuMuowoUadHHcJ7pjul6iFkS5Pd--8&m=yg00-wyRnpXZDnNF-ZX6mS_lLkp0Tjoa3OWxpnu1geU&s=r-SO5IhEKREmJB2MZcd4Ip4KdlgGlNgIyjxbv1negvE&e=

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