Most dictionaries attempt to categorized a jinx as something that causes adversity citing one possible source that it may have been derived during the 17th century from Latin iynx, from Greek iunx, or maybe from iuzein meaning to call or cry saying that there is some anecdotal evidence related to the wryneck bird and its feathers being used to cast spells.
It’s a member of the woodpecker family, a species that breeds across Europe and Asia. It has a strange habit of twisting its neck right round when it’s alarmed or when it’s watchfully at rest, hence its English name; it has an odd courtship ritual, in which the male and female perch opposite one another, shaking their heads about, and gaping their mouths to show the pink inside. Such curious behaviour made people think the wryneck was uncanny, and from the time of the Greeks there were superstitions attached to it, with links to witchcraft, divination and magic. Its Greek name passed into Latin and then into English, either as yunx or jynx. So it’s not surprising that dictionary writers often suggest that jinx comes from this bird of superstition.
Two problems with this theory say some experts are, even though the word jynx
was used in academic areas it was rarely used in British English. The second hitch is that the wryneck is not a North American bird. Since the word doesn’t actually appear in print until the early 20th century three out of four etymologists think that it’s more than likely jinx has its beginnings in the arena of sports slang.
The inflected forms of the word are jinxed, jinxing, and jinxes. Jinx can be used as a noun as well as a transitive verb. Used as noun it can describe an individual or object that is thought to bring bad fortune or a jinx can also denote a circumstance or phase of bad fortune that seems to have been perpetuated by a particular person or thing. The noun appeared in 1911 and six years later jinx as verb hit the scene as a part of American vernacular following the Civil War when morals became more relaxed which led to a new sense frankness. Reflective of the era were the emerging popularity of story songs many of which were scandalous, one example is Little Brown Jug a drinking song form the 1860s. During the same decade in 1868 a celebrated vaudeville song entitled Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines was composed and sung by William Horace Lingard. It tells the story of poor Captain Jinks who was a dismal flop as a soldier and in the end drummed out of the Army. The British Lingard Comedy Company crafted a romantic musical comedy around the anecdote in the song and in 1901 the play made its way to Broadway where it marked Ethel Barrymore’s début as a star at the Garrick Theater where a chorus of girls in military costume performed the theme song. Here is a sample of the chorus and third verse:
(Chorus) And that wouldn't do for the army.
I'm Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines,
I give my horse good corn and beans;
Of course it's quite beyond my means,
Tho' a Captain in the army.
The first day I went out to drill,
The bugle sound made me quite ill,
At the balance step my hat it fell,
The officers they all did shout,
They all cried out, they all did shout,
The officers they all did shout,
"Oh, that's the curse of the army."
The title song from the Captain Jinks play survived for generations, performed by children in primary schools as well as a singing square dance call. ”This became all the rage,” relates Michael Quinion, “ almost immediately spawning another song by Will Hays about the captain’s supposed wife: Mistress Jinks of Madison Square. It grew to be a well-liked square dance tune, and a popular song of soldiers in the American Army in the decades after 1870.’
Soon after the Spanish-American War a friend of Mark Twain by the name of Ernest Crosby published an anti-imperialist satire called Captain Jinks, Hero. Proof that even three decades later the word was still alive and doing so well that a novelist could write about it with the belief that his readers would understand the gist of the book from its title.
In all probability Captain Jinks from the song earned his name either from high jinks or from the existing English word jink, which was then and is still today defined as, “to make an unexpected turn or change in direction so as to avoid or elude some pursuer,” says Quinion. Here he discusses a stronger European connection to high jinks:
Jink in this sense is recorded from the latter part of the eighteenth century, and is assumed to be connected with your phrase high jinks, which by then had been around for the better part of a century. This referred to a game played at drinking parties. Guests threw dice to decide who should perform some daft task for the amusement of the company, or down a large drink, failure to do either requiring some forfeit. It was originally a Scots term and in that sense is long obsolete. In the early nineteenth century, the phrase could refer to a gambler who would drink with his victim to soften him up. By the 1840s it had broadened into its modern sense of any kind of high-spirited fun, noisy revelry or boisterousness. But though we know the more recent parts of their stories, nobody seems to know where either jink or high jinks come from, though the former may have been influenced by kink.
Perhaps it was from the action of quick turns and elusive maneuvers combined with the effervescently irrational Captain Jinx that led sports fans to confiscate the word. American sports writer and author Allen Sangree published The Jinx: Stories of the Diamond in 1910 and a couple of years later one researcher cites Christy Mathewson’s Pitching at a Pinch in which he declares: “A jinx is something which brings bad luck to a ball player”. From there it broadened into everyday American usage.
Similar to any college that’s over a century old, Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas has a character that’s all its own. It's not anything that one can put a finger on. It's a feeling. It's an "experience." It's kind of quirky. It’s the one I went to. And, it's also kind of cool.
In 1998 and 1999, when Newsweek listed the fifteen “most bizarre mascots/nicknames among colleges and universities in the United States,” the Southwestern College Moundbuilders were right up there with the Banana Slugs and the Fighting Missionaries. Being a Moundbuilder as an experience that is difficult to explain and it’s probably best to leave it at that. You would almost certainly have to attend a moundbuilding ceremony to get the idea. What's even cooler than being a Moundbuilder and actually has nothing to do with Slugs or Missionaries for that matter is Southwestern College's mascot a black cat named Jinx (you can see a likeness of him in my homenode) that came from the early 1900’s --about the time that Captain Jinks was benefiting from his notoriety in song and dance; a point in time when colleges were still small and enjoyed friendly and sometimes not so friendly competitions. At the time there were no athletic conferences like today. The Moundbuilder’s biggest rivalry in football was Fairmount College, currently known as Wichita State University and the Moundbuilders of the roaring twenties decided to erect a graveyard of tombstones for teams that Southwestern "killed" on the playing fields.
After one particularly easy victory over Fairmount College games, Southwestern students erected a gravestone in celebration of the game painting on it the game's score (41-3) and a picture of a black cat. The jinx worked! After years of suffering defeat at the hands of the Fairmount College players, Southwestern continued to beat Fairmount College for the next 14 consecutive years.
As you might imagine, the tombstone became despised by Fairmount as a source of immense aggravation and a symbol that they tried with great diligence to obliterate. One night several students bent on destruction accomplished their goal by slipping onto campus, hauling the tombstone out into the middle of a nearby farmer’s field then blowing it up with dynamite. Pleased with their results they decided to hide pieces of the stone in their football uniforms for good luck during the following game. Unfortunately they suffered yet another defeat. Disappointed and disgusted the Fairmount players took the stones from their uniforms and threw them on the football field. To guard against further mischief the Southwestern players salvaged the shattered pieces and hid them around the campus. Legend tells that Jinx guards these stones guaranteeing that they still exist and that the Moundbuilders will stay triumphant.
Now that’s cool.
Online Etymology Dictionary:
Southwestern College in Winfield, KS:
World Wide Words: http://www.quinion.com/