[Ads-l] Jumbo (Size/Quantity)

Barretts Mail mail.barretts at GMAIL.COM
Wed Nov 25 01:36:13 UTC 2020

Here are some possibilities for the origin of the elephant Jumbo’s name: 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumbo <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumbo>
http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2015/02/word-jumbocome/ <http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2015/02/word-jumbocome/>

The Wikipedia article dates Jumbo the elephant’s birthday to around December 25, 1860, and his name to around 1865, with three possible origins.

However, perhaps more likely for the origin of the elephant’s name is "Punch, or the London Charivari” (vol 38, April 1960), which has a poem named “Mumbo Jumbo” on page 162 and a cartoon of a bull on page 163 (https://tinyurl.com/y3j77t5z <https://tinyurl.com/y3j77t5z>). 

This cartoon is described (https://tinyurl.com/y2lb7ya4 <https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-mumbo-jumbo-political-cartoon-about-the-pope-threatening-victor-emmanuel-51660804.html>) as Pope (Pius IX) threatening to excommunicate Victor Emmanuel II, which Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Pius_IX#End_of_the_Papal_States <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Pius_IX#End_of_the_Papal_States>) describes. In the cartoon, one of the characters says, “Ah! ç'est bien drôle” (Oh, it’s very funny).

Benjamin Barrett (he/his/him)
Formerly of Seattle, WA

> On 24 Nov 2020, at 12:46, Geoffrey Nathan <geoffnathan at WAYNE.EDU> wrote:
> While I have no opinion on the etymology of the actual word 'jumbo',
> its use to mean large quantities of some object  (of any size) is semantically
> totally transparent, and an example of a very common metonymic shift,
> from 'container' to 'quantity within the container'. A jumbo-sized
> (meaning extremely large) package can refer metonymically to a jumbo-sized amount
> contained therein.
> For example,  'He ate a whole box of 'jelly beans',
> meaning a large number of jelly beans (equally small, of course).
> He didn’t eat the cardboard.
> Geoff
> Geoffrey S. Nathan
> WSU Information Privacy Officer (Retired)
> Emeritus Professor, Linguistics Program
> https://clasprofiles.wayne.edu/profile/an6993
> geoffnathan at wayne.edu
> From: Z Rice<mailto:zrice3714 at GMAIL.COM>
> Sent: Tuesday, November 24, 2020 1:49 PM
> Subject: Jumbo (Size/Quantity)
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Z Rice <zrice3714 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Jumbo (Size/Quantity)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 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
> bewilderment".
> How jumbo 'enormous, numerous in quantity' would derive from such a meaning
> is not explained.
> Regards,
> Zola Sohna
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> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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