Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Jasper

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 1, 2015

If you’re from the city, if you call someone a Jasper, you’re referring to that person as uneducated rustic
simpleton.  If you’re talking Smoky Mountain English, a Jasper is an outsider.  A stranger.  Someone not from the mountains.

In Donald Goines book “Black Gangster” published in 1977, the author used the more insulting version of the word.

Dot is just as cold, or colder, than any jasper we could put on the case.

It was in used in an article published in the New Yorker magazine in 1970.

What’s with those jaspers?

January 1, 1963, publisher Angus & Robertson issued “Why Do Women …?” written by pulp fiction author Mark Corrigan.  While Mark Corrigan was a prolific author, he was far more prolific than most realized as this was a pen name for prolific British author Norman Lee (10 October 1898 – 2 June 1964) who also wrote under the pseudonyms Robertson Hobart, Raymond Armstrong, and wrote one novel under the pseudonym, J. Earle Dixon in 1960.  It’s believed that the novels by Norma ‘Nicky’ Lee published in 1953 and 1954 were also written by Norman Lee.  On page 173 of this novel, the following line was included:

If that dark jasper calls on you again, try and keep him here.

Now one might mistake that to mean someone who with a dark complexion except that “The Theatre Dictionary: British and American Terms in the Drama, Opera, and Ballet” written by Wilfred Granville and published in London by Andre Deutsch in 1952 asserted the following to be term of the term Jasper.

Jasper: Traditional name for the villain of the piece in melodrama.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  Wilfred Granville, along with Francis Gerard Roberts, also published the “Dictionary of Forces Slang: 1939 – 1945) which proved to be a comprehensive dictionary of terms used by the British Armed Forces during World War II.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2:  Wilfred Granville published another dictionary related to military life in 1962 entitled, “Dictionary of Sailors’ Slang.”

In the book, “Flying U Ranch” written by American Bertha Muzzy Bower Sinclair Cowan (15 November 1871 – 23 July 1940) under her pseudonym B.M. Bower and published in 1914, the term was used in this passage.

“Well, now, you hain’t runnin’ this here show.  Honest to grandma, I’ve saw that time when a little foot-warmin’ done a sheepherder a whole lot us good; and, it looks to me, by cripes, as if this feller needed a dose to gentle him down.  You git the fire started.  That’s all I want you t’do, Happy.  Some uh you boys help me rope him — like him and that other jasper over there done to Andy.  C’me on Andy — it ain’t goin’ to take long!”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3:  Bertha Muzzy’s second husband (whom she married in 1912) was Canadian author Bertrand William Sinclair (9 January 1881 – 20 October 1972) and was also known as William Brown Sinclair.

But it was in the book “Checkers: A Hard Luck Story” by American writer, lyricist, composer and author Henry Martyn Blossom (1867 – 23 March 1919), writing as Henry M. Blossom Jr., and published in 1896 (and dedicated to the author’s friend Ellis Wainwright) that the term (with quotation marks around it) first appeared in print.

“I got in here at six to-night, and I’m going to get away at one.  After supper (Supper! I’ll tell you about that later!) I went over to the only shanty in the place that looked like a store, and opened the door.  There were a lot of ‘Jaspers‘ sitting around the stove, chewing tobacco and swapping lies.  I asked the guy that got up when I came in where he kept his stock (he had nothing in sight).  He lighted a lantern, walked me a quarter of a mile, and showed me four ‘mooley-cows’ — say, I was sore.  But I’m square with him — I gave him a couple of ‘Mexicans.'”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4:  Henry Blossom had a number of successful musical revues and musical comedies for which he was known, from “Sally In Our Alley” to “The Velvet Lady.”  He wrote songs for the musical revue “The Wizard Of Oz” which opened at the Majestic Theater on January 20, 1903, closed on October 3, 1903, and ran for a total of 293 performances on Broadway.  It re-opened in New York on March 21, 1904 and continued through to November 25, 1905 at three theaters in New York City:  Majestic Theater, Academy of Music Theater, and New York Theater.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the word jasper in this context than 1896 although the term jasper has been used in the United Kingdom to refer to wasps over the years.  That being said, wasps are not the sort of jaspers that are meant when the term is used in America.

One Response to “Jasper”

  1. In either slang or local dialect (depending on how you like to consider such things) throughout parts of the UK a “Jasper” is a wasp (insect) – quote from Wikipedia (Wasp)

    “Common wasps are colloquially known as “jaspers” in certain regions of England (such as Dorset and Lincolnshire, and more commonly the English Midlands), although it is not clear whether the etymology refers to the Latin name “vespa” or the striped abdomen, which echoes the striped mineral jasper.”

    I have heard this frequently used in Hertfordshire & Bedfordshire.

    While it’s hardly a common insult, calling someone a Jasper in this context would mean they were an annoying pest.

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