Thursday, October 3, 2019

Language of Confusion: Bad Luck

I’m kind of running out of Halloween adjacent words to look at, so we’re down to words that are just bad luck.

Jinx showed up in 1911, making it a pretty recent word. Well, kind of. It’s origin is weirdly muddied. I say weirdly because there’s a word jynx, but it’s actually not definite that jinx came from it, even though that would make sense. Jynx actually showed up in the mid seventeenth century, where it meant “wryneck”, which is somehow an actual word that I’ve never heard of before—it’s a mix of wry and neck, and apparently a type of bird that was used in “witchcraft and divination”. Jynx is from the Modern Latin jynx, from the classical Latin iynx, and the wryneck bird is a subfamily of woodpeckers that’s called Jyngidae. So to sum up: jinx might be from jynx, a word for a bird called a wryneck that has something to do with magic, because shut up.

Curse comes from the Old English curs/cursian, a curse, so it’s straightforward so far. But then of course no one knows where it came from previously, as there is no Germanic, Romance, or Celtic equivalent. One theory is that it’s from the classical Latin cursus, which means course and is the origin word for course, as cursus could also mean a “set of daily liturgical prayers”. I don’t know. Why not?

Hex showed up in the early-mid nineteenth century in American English, meaning a witch and not a magic spell until the early twentieth century. It’s from the Pennsylvania German hexe, to practice witchcraft, and in proper German, it means witch. That can be traced to the Middle High German hecse/hexse, from the Old High German hagazussa, hag—and yes, that’s the origin word for hag.

Bane comes from the Old English bana, something which causes death, from the Proto Germanic banon. Before that, it’s another big old mystery, although at least this one is somewhat straightforward.

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. So putting a hex on someone is putting a witch on them? Well, that would be uncomfortable...

  2. You're out of Halloween words? Well, I guess you have been doing this for a number of years.

  3. Are minx and lynx related to jynx in any way?

  4. That first one is just ridiculous... Why can't language just be straightforward and make sense? Wryneck????


Please validate me.