jink

Is this the singular of jinx? It is not. Jinx comes from the Greek name for a bird. Jink is sound symbolism, expressive language. A jink is a zig or a zag; in Canadian terms, it is a deke. (Deke has a certain expressive something, but to my knowledge it is originally shortened from decoy, whereas jink is – by the evidence – not shortened from anything.)

A jink is an instance of jinking. Jink, the verb, means ‘dart jerkily’ or ‘make a quick, evasive turn’ – so as to elude capture or attack, particularly in rugby or aeronautics. Both verb and noun have been around since at least the 1700s. The origin, as I said, seems to be sound symbolism.

Sound symbolism? You know, that thing we do whereby we associate certain sounds with real-world things or actions, even if there is no actual resemblance of sound. Surely you have a sense of the difference between actions described with, say, tek versus pek versus kek, and jek and chek and then shek and so on. The different onsets have different senses of action: light, firm, hard, supported, strong, sliding… not that any one word would describe the difference with full accuracy. Likewise, everything can turn abruptly with a new vowel and with a new coda (final consonant or combination of consonants). Compare jek with jenk, jeshk, jesh, jet (which has other associations too, of course), jev, and so on; now change to jank, junk (strong semantic effect there), jonk, jink. Only one of those would really do for a strong, sudden action that covers some space quickly before slotting neatly into a new position.

Of course, echoes of words with semantic associations will always have an important effect. Jink? How about junk, Jenkins, jonquil, jangle, jingle, drink, chink, juke, Jenga?

Or how about hijinks? Or should I write that high jinks? It turns out I should – if I want to go with the origins (which are of no matter to most English speakers, because they don’t know them, but once you know them…). As I said, the word starts with a reference to deking out in rugby or similar sport. From that comes dancing, and tricking, and winning a game of cards (of a certain kind – spoil-five or forty-five – according to Oxford). And a drinking game, whereby the person who got the high roll of the dice – the high jink – would have to do “some ludicrous task” (Oxford) or drink a large bowl of some alcoholic beverage or, failing at the one, do the other. Hence high jinks for rowdy revelry and miscellaneous mischief.

I do prefer the spelling hijinks, as it happens, because of the iji with its nice symmetry and its three dots. But I recognize that the fun of the spelling has hijacked (not high jacked) the original form. Well, so be it. I’d rather hijinks put me in hiding than have low jinks in my lodgings.

What are low jinks? I would have thought they would be as boring as hijinks are exciting, but according to dictionary.com, low jinks are “merrymaking or horseplay that is less than tasteful.” Which actually sounds just like hijinks to me – if hijinks were tasteful, they wouldn’t be hijinks, would they? It seems as though low jinks has somehow made an unexpected sharp turn in sense.

One response to “jink

  1. Jinkies! In the immortal and oft-repeated words of my favorite Scooby-Doo character.

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