This week’s word is jinx with thanks to the excellent Haggard Hawks twitter account. They mentioned a while back that the jinx was originally a bird and it intrigued me so I dug a little deeper.
The first thing I found is that this word has entered the English language twice – once in the USA and once in England but at very different time periods.
In the 1690s, jynx was used to describe a spell or charm. It was sometimes also spelled as jyng (the Tudors were erratic spellers). The word arose from iynx in Latin and in Greek which was a bird used in witchcraft and divination.
The jynx, or wryneck as it’s known these days, is a small woodpecker bird with dull brown and grey plumage native to Europe whose ability to turn its head through 180 degrees gives rise to its modern name. I wasn’t able to discover exactly how it was used in divination (although given the ancients’s love for reading entrails I fear the bird might not have survived the rites), but it features in Greek mythology too. In one story Lynx was a nymph, the daughter of Pan and Echo. She cast a love spell on Zeus and Hera turned her into a bird called the iynx in revenge. In another story she dared to pit her musical talent against the muses and was turned into a bird for her presumption. The bird could be used to create love through witchcraft.
In British English that connection with misfortune (although not always in love) persists. If I say I don’t want to jinx something it means that I don’t to cause it to fail.
Jinx only appeared in American English around 1911 and it arose originally as baseball slang.
If a player or team is subject to a jinx then they will have a losing streak until they can shake it off. It’s unclear if the Greek myths, the bird, or some other source brought jinxes to baseball, but there they have stayed.
Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling