Daily Archives: May 27, 2009


Oh, now, here’s a word for something you get up to. And the word gets up, too: look at those three dots in a row, like high spirits, high hands, perhaps lighters held aloft or, well, who knows what – better duck. And they’re bookended by the h on one side and, on the other, what used to be an h but has gotten a bit of a kicking so that the lower part (n) has separated, and not without damage to the upright, which is splintered (k). Clearly damage accelerates quicker when aided by a lot of liquor.

Oh, but these are merely youthful high spirits! Well, high jinxes, too. Not etymologically, though – jinx comes from the name of a bird (jynx, better known as wryneck) said to be used in witchcraft (perhaps to curse a person with torticollis, given its other name), whereas the jinks in hijinks is a plural noun referring to a drinking game (yep), named with a noun referring to a tricky, elusive turn (as in rugby), which in turn is a conversion from the verb jink, which refers to the same action, the sort of move you would make with a 250-pound tackle aiming for you – or perhaps a machine gun emplacement behind you. It’s also somewhat like the moves your fingers make when typing hijinks. (The sudden change may also bring to mind hikinuki, a sudden change in kabuki – I mean a sudden change of costume!) And the verb jink? Just made up because it sounded right for the move. The Oxford English Dictionary calls it onomatopoeia, but the move doesn’t really go “jink, jink, jink”; it’s more in the way of sound symbolism: there’s that jumpy j and the quick-as-a-wink ink. As to the hi, it’s not a greeting (though the greeting “Hi, Jinx!” might lead to some hijinks), it’s high shortened and attached. The word was originally high jinks.

But, really, high jinks just does not party as hard as hijinks. Hijinks is a word for laughing off all manner of inebriated indiscretion and misjudgement, such as having some drinks on the links and using one of the lakes for a jakes, or going out for sushi, having too much sake and ending up dressed in hijiki (just don’t feast on the stuff; it’s slightly loaded with arsenic, dears).


There are several ways to say this word, and in the end I’ve no clear proclivity to one or another. It did come to us most immediately from French, so come on, diva, say it with flair if you wish. But you can also go with the Oxford English Dictionary’s suggestion and make an end of it. The French word came, after all, from Latin, as did Portuguese, Spanish and Italian endivia (no going “on” with that version; the beginning is the “end”). The Latin was intibus or intubus – now, that sounds downright surgical, and uncomfortably close to incubus (close to any incubus is uncomfortable) – and there’s a 10th-century Greek entubon which, pronounced like modern Greek, would be “en-dee-von.” Anyway, this word gives a different, softer, more elegant feel than chicory, the name for the genus of which endive names two species. Especially softer and more elegant if you stick with the French pronunciation, or at least keep away from the broadly anglophone one, which sounds like a short way of saying “nose-dive” and blends two rather downer words. Its object is a quite elegant-looking thing, too, among the most proper of the fancy greens, and as tidy and contained as the word: calm light green and yellow, and none of those ruffles or streaks (nor, perhaps ironically, is its appearance veined). And the leaves can hold a variety of choice spreads and mélanges, spoon-like. Or mix it up and the result is almost divine.