Now, if you think there's anything wharfinger enjoys more than looking up "jive" in the OED, then, well... I guess that means you know just as little about him as you always hoped you would.

The word appears to have originated in black American English; the exact origin is "unknown". Meaning number one is our favorite. It's a noun: "Talk that is misleading, untrue, empty". It's a verb, too: L. Armstrong, 1928: "Don't Jive Me", "title of phonograph record". There's even an adjectival form: "jive-ass", first appearing in print 1964: "jive-ass motherfucker", quoth R. S. Gold's Jazz Lexicon.

The jive-ass phrase "adjectival form" appeals to me in a way I can't quite explain. The OED tells us that "jive-ass" is "a word fluid in meaning and application". We're reminded of the perplexed Germans in Gravity's Rainbow discussing English usage of "ass" as a modifier: "Ass backwards? Backward-ass?"


The OED tells us that the noun "jive" first appeared in 1928, in the capable hands of somebody named R. Fisher Wells, in a book called Walls of Jericho, and then again a year later by T. Gordon in Born to Be. Born to be what? Dunno. Both used it in sense one, as above. Over time, we see the world change: The last citation given for sense one is from Black World, October 1973: " liberation, unification, and empowerment of Afrika... Anything short of that is jive."

The most recent citation I can give you is from a song called "Smoothing the Ride", recorded in 1992 by the very caucasian rock and roll band Walt Mink:

"And though she knows that folks think it's grrreat just to be alive...
She don't buy that jive."

There are other minor meanings: "A fast, lively type of jazz"; "lively and uninhibited dancing... jitterbugging"; marijuana, or a joint thereof (the alternate spelling "gyve" is given as found in the San Francisco Call-Bulletin, 1938; we're not convinced that the good folks at the Call-Bulletin knew what they were talking about).

The other big meaning there is a variety of American English associated with Harlem, with black Americans, and with jazz musicians; "see also jive talk", it says, but doesn't mention the Bee Gees. That's probably just as well. What's best, though, is that the first citation given for this sense is from 1938, from a man identified as "C. Calloway", and a work identified as "Hi De Ho". And of course we all remember that fine cinematic milestone Airplane, and the nice, helpful old lady who announces, "I speak jive!"