The name for this antipodean quadruped dates back to the discovery of Australia by Captain James Cook in 1770. Kangaroo is a borrowing from the Guugu Yimidhirr name for the animal, gangurru. From his journal of 4 August from that year:

The animals which I have before mentioned, called by the Natives Kangooroo or Kanguru.

And Sir Joseph Banks, Cook’s shipboard naturalist, recorded in his journal on 26 August:

The largest was called by the natives kangooroo.

Within a few decades of Cook’s voyage however, others began claiming that the word did not appear in any Aboriginal language. Watkin Tench, a marine accompanying the first shipment of convicts to Australia, wrote in his 1793 Complete Account of the Settlement of Port Jackson:

The large, or grey kanguroo, to which the natives give the name of Pat-ag-a-ran. Note, Kanguroo was a name unknown to them for any animal, until we introduced it.

This probably resulted from confusion about the many different Aboriginal languages in Australia; kangaroo is not the native name in most. It wasn’t until later in the 20th century that Guugu Yimidhirr was identified as the source. As a result, many older references dispute the claim of an Aboriginal source.

There is a story that kangaroo actually meant “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand you” in an Aboriginal tongue and was given as a response when Cook and his men asked, in English, the creature’s name. This is completely fanciful.

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition; Macquarie Dictionary)

joneses, keeping up with the

Keeping Up With The Joneses, by Arthur MomandThe expression keeping up with the Joneses got its start in 1913 as the title of a comic strip by Arthur R. “Pop” Momand. The strip detailed the lives of the McGinis family, who were envious of their neighbors, the Joneses. By the mid-1920s, the phrase was in common use. From American Speech, February 1926:

Today most of us live in automobilia where the automocracy is everlastingly trying to "keep up with the Joneses."

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)

keep one’s nose clean

Keep your nose clean is an Americanism dating to 1887. From the New Orleans Lantern, 13 October of that year:

There’s worse fellows than you looking for it, and if you only keep your nose clean, we’ll let you have it.

It is almost certainly a metaphorical reference to a child maintaining proper hygiene in polite company, in particular children with runny noses. One is expected by be on good behavior and presentable just as a child is among adults.

(Sources: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition; Historical Dictionary of American Slang)

jump the shark

When a television show jumps the shark it has reached a tipping point and will steadily decline ever after. Jumping the shark is the defining moment when you know your favorite TV show will never be the same again.

The phrase is a reference to the 1970s television show Happy Days. On 20 September 1977, the show aired an episode where the character Fonzie jumps a shark tank on water skis. A two-part cliffhanger episode, many fans of the show consider this episode to be the moment when they realized the show had become shameless in its self-promotion.

The phrase jump the shark, however, appears some two decades later. On 24 December 1997 the website www.jumptheshark.com went up on the net. It listed TV shows and the episodes where they jumped the shark. The site gives credit for the phrase to a Sean J. Connelly, who allegedly coined it in 1985. Connelly was the college roommate of site’s creator, Jon Hein.

From the New York Times, 12 December 1999:

Jon Hein, 32, of Woodbury calls that instant a television show peaks “jumping the shark.” “In my opinion, there is a definitive moment in every show when that happens, when it goes downhill,” Mr. Hein said. After that the program will never be the same again.

And from 20 May 2002:

Billy’s blond hair was the series’ “jump the shark moment,” an increasingly common phrase that signals the point at which a series begins its descent.

(Source: jumptheshark.com; Proquest Historical Newspapers)

John Bull

John BullJohn Bull is the English equivalent of Uncle Sam, a personification of England and the English people.

The term dates to 1712 and first appears as a character in John Arbuthnot’s satire The Law Is a Bottomless Pit. By the end of the 18th century, John Bull was being used as a metaphor for England. From a 1778 letter from John Adams to his wife, Abigail:

France...assisted the American cause, for which John Bull abused and fought her. But John will come off wretchedly.

The familiar appearance as a top-hatted, paunchy, Victorian gentleman dates to the nineteenth century and the cartoons by John Tenniel (perhaps most famous for his illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland).

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)


Ain’t no use in going home
Jody’s got your girl and gone
[...] Gonna get a three-day pass
Just to kick old Jody’s ass.
— U.S. Army marching cadence, a.1944

Anyone who has seen a movie about the U.S. Army has heard soldiers chanting and singing as they march or run. These chants or cadences are called jodies or jody calls, after a character in many of the songs. The character Jody is a civilian back home who has stolen the affections of the soldier’s sweetheart. From The Chicago Defender, 20 November 1943:

I overheard some soldiers referring to me as “Jody in an army uniform.”

The military use of jody was introduced to the U.S. Army by African-American soldiers. Jody is a clipping of the name of Joe the Grinder, a slightly older character in jazz and blues mythology.

Joe the Grinder is the name of mythical ladies man in blues tunes who seduces the wives and sweethearts of prisoners and soldiers. He’s also known as Joe De Grinder and Joe D. Grinder. The term dates to at least 1939. Grinder is from an old slang verb, to grind, meaning to copulate. From The Ladies Parliament (1647):

Digbies Lady takes it ill, that her Lord grinds not at her mill.

(Source: Historical Dictionary of American Slang; Proquest Historical Newspapers)


A jinx is a person or thing that carries bad luck. The origin is unknown, but Douglas Wilson has suggested an etymology that could very well be correct.

According to Wilson’s hypothesis, jinx comes from a character named Jinks Hoodoo in the 1887 play Little Puck starring Frank Daniels. The cast list, as printed in the New York Daily Tribune of 18 January 1888, described the character as:

Jinks Hoodoo, esq., a curse to everybody

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jerry-built / jury rig

These two terms have different origins and different meanings, although they are becoming conflated in common usage.

Jerry-built, meaning shoddy construction, dates to 1869. From the 1869 Lonsdale Glossary:

Jerry-built, slightly, or unsubstantially built.

The origin of jerry-built is unknown. One assumes that it is somehow related to the name Jerry, but exactly how is not known.

Jury rig, while similar sounding, has a slightly different meaning, emphasizing the temporary nature of the solution and can imply an ingenious solution done with materials at hand. Jerry-built, on the other hand, is often used for a permanent, but poorly built, construction and has no positive connotation.

The origin of jury rig is nautical and is taken from the term jury mast. A jury mast is a temporary mast erected to hold sail when the normal mast has been lost due to storm or battle. From Captain John Smith’s The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England and the Summer Isles, penned in 1616:

We had reaccommodated her a Iury mast, and the rest, to returne for Plimouth.

It is commonly thought that jury mast is a clipped form of injury mast, but no evidence of this longer term has been found. This form of jury is etymologically unrelated to the jury that sits in judgment at a trial.

The term jury rig itself appears in 1788. From Thomas Newte’s A Tour in England and Scotland published in that year:

The ships to be jury rigged: that is, to have smaller masts, yards, and rigging, than would be required for actual service.

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)

jerk / jerkwater / jerk-off / jerky

Jerk is an old word, dating to the sixteenth century. The word echoes the sound made by a short, sharp movement. The original sense is that of a blow or stroke of a whip. From Miles Coverdale’s 1550 A Spyrytuall and Moost Precious Perle:

Than he beateth and gierketh vs a little with a rod.

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jury rig

See jerry-built.

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