Article on the origin of the word jazz

edited July 2006 in History Posts: 101
anyone ever heard this?

How the Irish Invented Jazz


(he seems to base this on research related to the article he includes below:)

In Praise of "Jazz" A Futurist Word Which Has Just Joined the Language
by Ernest Hopkins, April 5, 1913, S.F. Bulletin

This column is entitled "What's Not in the News" but occasionally a few things that are in the news leak in. We have been trying for some time to keep these things out, but hereby acknowledge ourselves powerless and surrender.

This thing is a word. It has recently become current in the Bulletin office through some means which we cannot discover but would stop up if we could. There should be every precaution taken to avoid the possibility of any more such words leaking in to disturb our vocabulary.

This word is "JAZ." It is also spelt "Jazz," and as they both sound the same and mean the same, there is no way of settling the controversy. The office staff is divided into two sharp factions, one of which upholds the single z and the other the double z. To keep them from coming to blows much Christianity is required.

"JAZZ" (We change the spelling each time so as not to offend either faction) can be defined, but it cannot be synonymized. If there were another word that exactly expressed the meaning of "jaz," "Jazz" would never have been born. A new word like a new muscle only comes into being when it has been long needed.

This remarkable and satisfactory-sounding word, however, means something like life, vigor, energy, effervescence of spirit, joy, pep, magnetism, verve, virility, ebulliency, courage, happiness, ­ oh, what's the use? ­ JAZZ.

Nothing else can express it.

You can go on flinging the new word all over the world, like a boy with a new jack-knife. It is "jazz" when you run for your train; "jaz" when you soak an umpire; "Jazz" when you demand a raise; "jaz" when you hike thirty-five miles of a Sunday; "Jazz" when you simply sit around and beam so that all who look beam on you. Anything that takes manliness or effort or energy or activity or strength of soul is "jaz."

We would not have you apprehend that this new word is slang. It is merely futurist language, which as everybody knows is more than mere cartooning.

"Jazz" is a nice word, a classic word, easy on the tongue and pleasant to the ears, profoundly expressive of the idea it conveys - as when you say a home-run hitter is "full of the old jaz." (Credit Scoop.) There is and always has been an art of genial strength; to this art we now give the splendid title of "jazz."

The sheer musical quality of the word, that delightful sound like the crackling of an electric spark, commends it. It belongs to the class of onomatopoeia. It was important that this vacancy in our language should have been filled with a word of proper sound, because "jaz" is a quality often celebrated in epic poetry, in prizefight stories, in the tale of action or the meditative sonnet; it is a universal word, and must appear well in all society.

That is why "pep," which tried to mean the same but never could, failed; it was a rough-neck from the first, and could not wear evening clothes. "Jazz" is at home in bar or ballroom; it is a true American. "(Ernest Hopkins, S.F. Bulletin, April 19, 1913)

Less than a week later, on April 25th, "Scoop" spelled out the Irish definition of the American word Jazz for his San Francisco readers: "H.E.A.T. is a staple product of Los Angeles and Manager Dillon must have had some of it expressed to Oakland for use in the third game. However, the Seals invoked the aid of "jazz" which keeps equally in hot or cold weather and were thus able to win out on a 3 to 2 score." (63)

By May 1st "Scoop" Gleeson was writing poems to the elusive "jazz."

The old Wolf sat in the clubhouse door,
Hoping that his team might score.
The game rolled on, but he WOULD not go,
Because he loved those umpires so.
(Help! The old "jazz" is out again!). .(64)

By the end of May 1913 the Seals were 9-13 and totally out of "jazz" -- in last place. On June 5th, "Scoop" Gleeson blamed the loss of the old Jazz on an old Irish jinx: "Too long have the Oaks proved to be the hoodoofor the Seals." (65)

Then on July 7th in another large Breton cartoon on the front page of the sports section, a distraught father rushes about, frantically searching for a bottle of "Jazz" water to revive his sick baby (the S.F. Seals.) But, in store after store, he is unable to find the life-giving "Jazz" to save his kid (cuid, a chuid, a term of affection, mo chuid, my darling) (66)

By July 24th, the Seals were truly sick kids and had lost 15 of the last 16 games. In August, they were in the cellar of the Pacific Coast League without a drop of "Jazz.". At the end of the 1913 baseball season, the San Francisco Seals had finished 5th out of 6 teams. (67)

But that "futurist" San Francisco Irish American Vernacular word "Jazz" was just starting to sizzle into the consciousness and print of American speech and culture.

In early June, 1913, the San Francisco "Jazz" had already whizzed east into Indiana. In a feature story entitled "Best Sellers in City Slang," the Fort Wayne Sentinel reported that the "old jazz" was the "newest slang term in San Francisco." (68)

By the Fall of 1913, Jazz jumped like an electric spark from the baseball diamond to the boxing ring. In The Oakland Tribune on October 4th, the slugger (slacaire, a batter; a mauler, a bruiser) in the story wasn't a Seal hitting a baseball with a smack (smeach, pron. smack, a whack) and a wallop (bhuail leadhb, pron. whual lob, a mighty blow), but two palookas dukin' (tuargain, pron. duargin, hammering, slugging) it out in the ring: "The Sailor was off his feet last night, although Clabby handed him shots of the old _-jazz which made the ex-sailor's knees sag." (69)

The Jazz of Ireland and San Francisco was on its way to becoming the hottest new word of the 20th century.


  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 6,155
    Very interesting...I don't think anyone ever had a definitive origin of the word. The most common theory was that the word jazz came from jasimne, which was used as a perfume. Hence the term "getting jassed up."
  • Posts: 101
    make sure you read the full story at the link, the article was HUGE so I just pasted that tiny bit to show the guy did some research-
Sign In or Register to comment.
Home  |  Forum  |  Blog  |  Contact  |  206-528-9873
The Premier Gypsy Jazz Marketplace
Banner Adverts
Sell Your Guitar
© 2024, all rights reserved worldwide.
Software: Kryptronic eCommerce, Copyright 1999-2024 Kryptronic, Inc. Exec Time: 0.01589 Seconds Memory Usage: 0.99881 Megabytes