Sunday, June 17, 2007

June Blogpourri

First, from the Word Detective as I was looking up the origins of "nincompoop" for Procrastinator Junior and I found this tidbit.

Dear Word Detective: A friend of mine recently said that she felt there was some kind of jinx on her dating life, and this made me wonder about the word "jinx." The more I look at the word, the weirder it seems. Do you agree? Where does it come from? -- Emily Forsyth, King of Prussia, PA.

Yes, "jinx" is one very weird word. Part of what strikes us as weird about the word "jinx" may be the fact that words ending in "nx" are fairly uncommon in English, "larynx," "sphinx" and "phalanx" being the only ones most people ever encounter.

"Jinx" is, as you might suspect, an unusual word in other respects as well. It started out as a noun, meaning a charm or hex that brings bad luck or exercises evil influence, though your friend used it as a verb meaning to be cursed or to have bad luck either in general or in a specific endeavor (such as securing a palatable boyfriend). One curious thing about "jinx" is that, although belief in such curses and evil influences is thousands of years old, the word "jinx" itself is relatively new, first appearing in 1911.

Having posed that little puzzle, I will now solve it by explaining that "jinx" is actually an American misspelling of the much older (and even weirder) European word "jynx," which dates back to a suitably ancient 1649. And "jynx" holds the key to our mystery, because a "jynx" is also a type of Old World bird, a woodpecker also known as a "wryneck," named for its habit of twisting its neck when it is disturbed.

So now all we have to do is somehow connect your friend's substandard social life to an obscure European bird. And the answer is ... sorcery. It turns out that while jynxes make lousy dates (all the wrong sort of necking), jynx feathers were an essential ingredient in the potions and charms concocted by witches in the 16th century, so essential that the potions themselves eventually came to be known as "jynxes."

And since jinxes, strictly speaking, can be good as well as bad, all your friend needs now is a bird, a witch, and Mr. Right is just a cackle away.

Speaking of "jynxes," my ability to speak Italian is just about gone. I don't venture into North Beach (the Italian district in S.F.) and the Italians don't come over here, to my side of town. For one reason or another, I have to speak Spanish about six or seven times a week and unfortunately, I can't think in both languages.

So one language suffers at the expense of the other and the end result was I couldn't even tell this Italian couple how to get to Union Square. Cazzo, che vergonia!

Speaking of suffering at the expense of another, I've started and killed three short stories between Friday and Saturday mornings. All I have to show for this weekend that I've set aside for writing, are patches of dialogue that are sparse and dry like a Death Valley lawn.

On the good side, Forza Motorsports 2 is a lot of fun...

No, I said Motorsports, get yer mind outta da gutter!

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Blogger BeckEye said...

I don't see a lot of birds in NYC, so I'm not sure who or what to blame my lackluster dating life on now.

Mon Jun 18, 12:48:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Writeprocrastinator said...


Just like Robert Goulet sabotages workers in the Emerald Nuts ad, K-Fed subverts virtually every interaction you have with the male species.

You shouldna gone n' tawkded about him.

Mon Jun 18, 07:34:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Beth said...

Very cool. I love learning how words came about.

Hey — you took my Robert Goulet line! Just don't rename this site Cup of Procrastination!

Tue Jun 19, 04:01:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Writeprocrastinator said...


Yeah, entomology and the Word Detective are hours of fun.

"Hey — you took my Robert Goulet line! Just don't rename this site Cup of Procrastination!"

I apologize profusely, I didn't know. This was a reflection of them constantly running the ad on Comedy Central and the Food Network, and wasn't intentional.

Tue Jun 19, 07:51:00 AM PDT  

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