Jaywalking

2003-05-30

On the way back from a post-lunch stroll, a co-worker and I jaywalked across an intersection, which got me thinking about the origins of the term "jaywalking". A quick Google search yields the following:

Back in the 1800's, country bumpkins visiting the city were called "jays" probably because bluejays are loud, brightly-colored and not-very-bright birds. Now, before the bluejay lobby gets on my tail about that characterization, allow me to point out that "jay" has been used as a synonym for "simpleton" since the 1500's, so it's a bit late to protest. In any case, these out-of-town "jays" were famous for being clueless. They wandered all over the city, gawked at the big buildings, bought the 19th century equivalent of "Cats" t-shirts, and blundered right into traffic whenever they felt like crossing the street. By the early 1900's, paying no attention to traffic signals or crosswalks was known as "jaywalking."

The source is word-detective.com, which appears to be a highly addictive website, at least for a word maven like me. Surf at your peril!


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