Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘jaywalking’

Jay

Posted by Admin on April 9, 2015

Now that Idiomation has tracked down jaywalking, jay driving, and jay town, the matter of what a jay is still remains to be solved!  Thanks to ongoing thorough research, the expression flap a jay cropped up.

To flap a jay is to swindle someone who is easily fooled, where flap means to manage adroitly and turn over … at least that’s according to the “Dictionary of Slang, Jargon and Cant.”   This dictionary was compiled and edited by Albert Barrère (died 1896) — author of “Argot And Slang” — and American humorist and folklorist Charles Godfrey Leland (15 August 1824 – 20 March 1903) — author of “The English Gypsies And Their Language” and other novels — and published in 1889.  The book included English, American, and Anglo-Indian slang as well as pidgin English, Gypsy jargon and what Messrs. Barrère and Leland considered to be irregular phraseology.

In the December 19, 1884 edition of the Pall Mall Gazette, warning words of wisdom were shared with readers about jays, not meaning the birds.  In fact, readers were warned of the dangers of larcenists who preyed upon gullible people.

The intending larcenist will strike up a conversation with a likely looking jay in a public conveyance and win his friendship.

While it wasn’t an expression that was used at great length over the generations, it is one that survived intact over the years.

Elizabethan dramatist, poet, and translator George Chapman (1559 – 12 May 1643) influenced the Stoicism movement.  It was his translation of “Homer” that was the standard English version for generations.  And it was Chapman who found himself imprisoned along with Ben Jonson and John Marston in 1605 by order of King James I of Britain because the king found their play, “Eastward, Ho!” offensive to their countrymen.

On November 16, 1632, the play “The Ball” by George Chapman and James Shirley was performed for the first time, licensed by Sir Henry Herbert.  The play centers on Lady Lucina who finds amusement in mocking and ridiculing her unwanted suitors.  The play makes the most of how easily it is to play those who are easily led to believe things that aren’t as they seem, thereby taking advantage of them.  The following happens in Act Two of this play.

LUCINA
You will see me again.  Ha, ha, ha!  Scutilla.

SCUTILLA
Here, madam, almost dead with stifling my laughter.  Why, he’s gone for a licence; you did enjoin him no silence.

LUCINA
I would have ’em all meet, and brag o’ their several hopes, they will not else be sensible, and quit me of their tedious visitation.  Who’s next?  I would the colonel were come, I long to have a bout with him.

SOLOMON
Mr. Bostock, madam.

LUCINA
Retire, and give the jay admittance.

Enter Bostock

BOSTOCK
Madam, I kiss your fair hand.

LUCINA
Oh, Mr. Bostock!

William Shakespeare’s play, “Cymbeline” published in 1623 was set in Ancient Britain and is based on legends that were well-known at the time.  In Shakespeare’s play, Imogen (the daughter of King Cymbeline) runs off and marries Posthumus (who is below her status) instead of Cloten (who is of equal status to Imogen).  Posthumus is exiled to Italy where he meets Iachimo who bets Posthumus that he can seduce Imogen.  It’s a familiar enough scenario when it comes to Shakespeare’s plays.

In Act III, Scene iv which takes place in the country ner Milford-Haven, a discussion takes place between Piranio and Imogen in which Imogen says:

IMOGEN
    I false! Thy conscience witness: Iachimo,
    Thou didst accuse him of incontinency;
    Thou then look’dst like a villain; now methinks
    Thy favour’s good enough. Some jay of Italy
    Whose mother was her painting, hath betray’d him:
    Poor I am stale, a garment out of fashion;
    And, for I am richer than to hang by the walls,
    I must be ripp’d:–to pieces with me!–O,
    Men’s vows are women’s traitors! All good seeming,
    By thy revolt, O husband, shall be thought
    Put on for villany; not born where’t grows,
    But worn a bait for ladies.

What this shows is that jay in Shakespeare’s play and in George Chapman’s play was a word that was known to their audiences.  This means it is accepted that the word and its associated meaning goes back to at least 1600, and most likely to the mid to late 1500s.

It also seems that the word and the behavior attributed to those who are accused of being jays is related to the European bird, Garrulus glandarinus, which was more commonly known as the jai in Old French from the Late Latin word gaius which means a jay.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Jay Town

Posted by Admin on April 7, 2015

In researching the terms jaywalking and jay driving, Idiomation wondered what the term jay meant, and co research continued.  In our travels, we came across another popular expression of the day:  jay town.

The term was used in a story titled, “Home” that was published in “Good Housekeeping” magazine in the September 1920 edition.  The story was written by Kathleen Norris (16 July 1880 – 18 January 1966) and illustrated by Harry Russell (H.R.) Ballinger (4 September 1892 – 3 July 1993).  It was a story about a woman named Fanny Bromley Lucas and her dear friend Angela Phillips, and takes place over tea.  The story ran the gamut, talking about Arizona, California, Canada and Mexico.

He was my first beau; he’s the only man I’ve ever cared for or ever will.  But, Fanny, when we got home from our honeymoon, he was first with his uncle, and then in real estate with Joe Bonestell.  Nothing satisfied him.  This was a jay town, and the people were webfoots.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE:  Kathleen Norris represented Good Housekeeping at the Democratic convention in 1920.

The Lodi Sentinel of September 26, 1907 republished a news article from the New York Times about the Reverend Robert J. Burdette (30 July 1844 – 19 November 1914) of Pasadena, California.  The former Burlington Hawkeye newspaperman, as he had been known across America, had recently visited his home town of New York City, and was disappointed with what he experienced.  The article was entitled, “When New York Is A Jay Town” and included this in commentary in the first paragraph.

His reflection on his return home is that New York is a “jay town — in August.  There are a few of us, perhaps three and a half millions, who are in town every August, and maybe we are all “jays.”  

And indeed the term jay town was a derogatory term as it appeared in the 1909 edition of “Passing English of the Victorian Era: A Dictionary of Heterodox English, Slang, and Phrase” compiled by British writer, novelist, playwright (and creator of one of the first female detectives in fiction) James Redding Ware (1832 – 1909) and published by G. Routledge & Sons in 1909.  This dictionary identified the term jay town as an Americanism from 1889 that mean something was valueless.  However, it’s an older term than that.  In Volume 8, Number 201 of “Life Magazine” published on November 4, 1886, Alan Dale wrote this about jay towns in a brief article for the magazine.

Between the acts I heard the remark from the lips of a swallow-tailed:  “What do these folks take us for?  If they had tried this on some jay town, it might have been less unpardonable.”  Of course I did not know what a “jay town” was, nor do I know yet, nor shall I ever know, but I felt it was something rightly opprobrious and pleasingly condemnatory.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression, however, the term was well enough known to be published in a national magazine (even though it was in quotation marks) and that means the term was one that, while unfamiliar to some, was familiar to many.  The expression is therefore tagged to at least 1880, and most likely dates back considerably earlier.

Research for the term jay continues.  Tune in again on Thursday to see what else Idiomation has uncovered.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Jaywalking

Posted by Admin on March 31, 2015

Jaywalking is an interesting term.  Some think it refers to blue jays, but they’re mistaken.  Jaywalking is when a person crosses or walks in the street unlawfully or without regard for approaching traffic.  In most instances, if a person crosses the street anywhere but at a crosswalk or an intersection, they are technically jaywalking.

It was on September 19, 1997 that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published an article written by Jessica McBride titled, “Alderman Wants Jaywalking Rules Eased.”  The Alderman in question was Jeff Pawlinksi, and it seems that a jaywalking ticket kicked the discussion off for the alderman was the one issued to District Attorney Michael McCann on May 23 of that year.  The article read in part:

Jaywalking tickets are back in vogue as part of the “quality of life” policing strategy begun by Police Chief Arthur Jones last fall.  That philosophy holds that cracking down on smaller crimes, such as jaywalking, prevents larger ones.

But Milwaukee and it’s relationship with jaywalking is an interesting one to say the least.  More than thirty years earlier, on July 31, 1965 the Milwaukee Journal published an article about jaywalking and the ordinances in Milwaukee and other state laws that governed the offense.  In the article, it stated that the judge pointed out that two teachers who had received citations for jaywalking had been charged with violating the wrong city ordinance, and because of that, the two University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee teachers who had been cited, were let off the hook.  The article in question was titled, “Milwaukee: Things You Should Know About Jaywalking.”

The Telegraph newspaper of Nashua, New Hampshire published an article on December 27, 1945 that took on the issue of jaywalking.  It talked about the anti-jaywalking ordinance that took a year and a half to hammer out, and the newspaper wrote it was about time the jaywalking problem was properly addressed.  The article included this information on the recommended ordinance:

Nashua’s outgoing Board of Aldermen has recommended to the incoming board that such an ordinance be drawn up by the City Solicitor prohibiting jaywalking on Main Street from Hollis Street North to Fletcher Street, “pedestrian cross traffic between these two points to be permitted only on the designated well-painted and well-illuminated cross walks.”

In the 1937 movie “The Great O’Malley” Pat O’Brien (11 November 1899 – 15 October 1983) played the role of James Aloysius O’Malley.  He was a by-the-books sort of officer and when newspaper reporter Pinky Holden (played by Hobart Cavanaugh) wrote an article poking fun at the officer’s meticulous work habits, the Chief of Police put him on crossing guard duty instead.  One of the many tickets Officer O’Malley wrote out before winding up a crossing guard was a ticket to his own mother for jaywalking.

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The word jay described someone who was naive or foolish and so when Harper’s Monthly Magazine published an article in 1917 entitled, “Our Upstart Speech” by Robert P. Utter (23 November 1875 – 17 February 1936), Associates Professor of English at Amherst College, it’s not surprising that the word jaywalking was included.  The topic, of course, was slang and how it was finding its way into everyday language more and more often.  The author took on different kinds of slang, including college slang which included such words as prof for professor, exam for examination, dorm for dormitory, policon for political economy, and other terms.  In many respects, college slang was “texting” of its generation.  With regards to jaywalking, the author had this to say about the expression.

If these last long enough in our every-day vocabulary to lose the gloss of technicality we may reduce them to lower terms, even as the Bostonian, supposedly sesquipedalian of speech, has reduced “a pedestrian who crosses streets in disregard of traffic regulations” to the compact jaywalker.

Some may insist that this was the earliest published use of the word, but they’d be wrong because five years earlier, in Kansas City, Missouri, the first ordinance criminalizing jaywalking was enacted to improve traffic conditions.  At the time, it was reported in the local newspaper that jaywalking was as bad as joy riding.  While the residents of Kansas City were concerned over losing a small personal liberty, they supported the new ordinance on the basis that the residents were averse to being thought of as “boobs, jays, ginks, or farmers” when their city was one of the top twenty large cities in the United States of America.  All of this was reported in the magazine “Automobile Topics: Volume 25, Number 9” published on April 13, 1912.

The first traffic laws in the U.S. were enacted in 1899, and on May 20, 1899, Jacob German, a New York City cab driver employed by the Electric Vehicle Company (one of New York City’s earliest cab companies), was arrested for driving his electric taxi down Lexington street in Manhattan at the dangerous speed of 12 mph.  He was imprisoned in the East 22nd Street station house for a time, and eventually set free.  Yes, Jacob German was the first person in the U.S. to be cited for speeding!

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE:  The first man ever arrested and convicted of speeding was Walter Arnold of East Peckham, Kent in England.   He was stopped by an officer as he zipped by at 8 mph in a 2 mph zone.  On 28 January 1896, Walter was found guilty of the charge against him, and received a fine for speeding.

The New York City law paved the way for the first state speed limit law in Connecticut which was enacted on May 21, 1901.  The law was the first speed limit law and limited motor vehicle speeds to 12 mph in cities and 15 mph on country roads.  Two years later, in 1903, New York City adopted the first comprehensive traffic code.

So, as you can see, in 1912, it was quite progressive for any city to enact an ordinance that addressed the issue of jaywalkers.  That being said, Kansas City wasn’t the first place jaywalking or jaywalkers was used.  It popped up in an article in the Chicago Tribune on April 7, 1909 where the following was written:

Chauffeurs assert with some bitterness that their ‘joy riding’ would harm nobody if there were not so much jay walking.

However, two years before the Chicago Tribune article, the Guthrie Daily Leader newspaper in Oklahoma made mention of jaywalkers in the October 22, 1907 edition of the newspaper.

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The term, as you can see, was an off-shoot of the phrase jay driver which was used in newspaper stories with alarming regularity.  For example, this headline in the Albuquerque Evening Citizen newspaper of June 29, 1907 saw the phrase make the headlines as it did in many newspaper from 1905 onwards.

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And so the expression jaywalker was first published in 1907, less than a decade after the first traffic laws came into existence.  And since jaywalking is what jaywalkers do, the word jaywalking also came into vogue at the same time.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »