[Ads-l] janky (1989)

Z Sohna zrice3714 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 26 19:07:55 UTC 2021

*Jenkí* / *jenky* and *jankí* / *janky* 'untrustworthy, suspect, dishonest'
is derived from the Mandinka *dʒeŋke* '(to be) dishonest, (to be) crooked,
to dodge, to avoid' Creissels 2011, 81 s.v. *jeŋke*; 'to move out of the
way'  Creissels 1982, 65 s.v. *jènke*

The noun and its broad meaning of "bad luck", however, is derived from the
Mandinka *dʒaŋka* 'whatever can damage or harm; dirtiness, gross impurity'
Creissels 1982, 62 s.v. *jánka*

Thus, these are two homonyms in Native Black American language derived from
two separate African etyma.

It should be noted that the additional Mandinka senses of 'dirtiness, gross
impurity' exist in Native Black American language (as both a noun and an
adjective) and can be readily found in a basic online search, as evidenced
by the below usage examples:

1. "Another thing I’ve noticed in my travels across the US, the Confederate
flag fliers are always on some *janky* stuff, dirty, filthy, unclean-
themselves and their environs."

2. "All cookouts be looking dirty and *janky*, idk why y’all so surprised"

3. "*Janky*: dirty, unclean, something that produces the reaction "Ewww."
Not to be associated with"

As the word is Mandinka in origin and native to the Native Black American
population, the historical record indicates that the word must have existed
in the United States for centuries before finally being documented in 1993.
Thus, its occurrence in a period film set in 1918 about the Native Black
American population is not at all anachronistic as previously stated, since
the word had to have been transmitted by the progenitors of Native Black
Americans between the 17th and 19th centuries in the American chattel
slavery era.

A given lexical item's earliest citation date is *not* indicative of the
lexical item's "birth".

The fact that all occurrences of the above word(s) in the West occur
following chattel slavery should ideally serve as a clue.

Zola Sohna

*Works Cited*:
Creissels, Denis. "Jeŋke." In *Lexique Mandinka-Français*, 81. Lyon:
Université Lumière Lyon, 2011.

Creissels, Denis, Sidia Jatta, and Kalifa Jobarteh. “Jánka.” In *Lexique
Mandinka-français*, 62. Paris: Mandekan, 1982.

Creissels, Denis, Sidia Jatta, and Kalifa Jobarteh. “Jènke.” In *Lexique
Mandinka-français*, 65. Paris: Mandekan, 1982.

OED3 has an entry for "janky" (added in 2009) with the meaning "of poor
quality, bad; untrustworthy, suspicious." The earliest cite given is from a
1993 Usenet post, and the etymological note says: "Probably representing a
regional, affected, or colloquial pronunciation of _junky_ adj. Compare
later _jank_ adj., and perhaps also _stank_ adj.2, _stanky_ adj."

Green's Dictionary of Slang also takes it back to 1993, in lyrics to a song
by The Roots:https://greensdictofslang.com/entry/na7ddza

More examples from rap lyrics, from 1993 on, can be found on The Right

GDoS relates "janky" to a noun "jankie" defined as "bad luck." That squares
with Clarence Major's 1994 book "Juba to Jive," where "janky" is listed as
a noun meaning "bad luck," which Major surmises is derived from a variant
of "jinxed."

I found a 1989 example that also relates "janky" to bad luck, from the
movie "Harlem Nights." In an early scene, Richard Pryor's character Sugar
Ray is running a dice game, and a toothless gambler (played by Ji-Tu
Cumbuka) flips out about a boy in the room bringing him bad luck. The boy
(Quick Brown, played by Desi Arnez Hines II -- Eddie Murphy plays him when
he grows up) ends up shooting the gambler, but before that happens, the
gambler threatens to knife him by saying:

"I'll definitely stick this little janky-ass bad-luck motherfucker standing
here."https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBOq0nY1rQE (at around 1:30)

The scene in the movie is set in 1918, so the use of the word is a tad
anachronistic, but it's useful for reconstructing how "janky" emerged in
African American slang by the late '80s. (Eddie Murphy wrote the screenplay
for "Harlem Nights," but I don't know if it was in the original script or
improvised on the spot by Cumbuka.)


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

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