[Ads-l] Jumbo (Size/Quantity)

Z Rice zrice3714 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Nov 24 18:49:12 UTC 2020

I noticed some time ago that the word jumbo 'numerous in quantity,
enormous' is erroneously attributed to an elephant and Barnum and Bailey in
several western dictionaries.

The elephant origin theory does not seem to explain the use of the term in
daily speech - in which jumbo also refers to something quite tiny, but
numerous in quantity (i.e., a jumbo Skittles).

Instead, the Kikongo zumbe 'enormous, numerous in quantity' would be a more
appropriate, and historically sensible explanation for the word jumbo
'enormous, numerous in quantity' in the United States.

The Oxford dictionary claims that jumbo (enormous, numerous in quantity) is
'probably the second element of "mumbo jumbo"', defining mumbo jumbo as
"language or ritual causing or intended to cause confusion or

How jumbo 'enormous, numerous in quantity' would derive from such a meaning
is not explained.


Zola Sohna

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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