Q&A: Jinx vs hoodoo vs hex

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, we’re casting jinxes, hoodoos and hexes…

Q: Hi AWC — This week, I’d like to do some spell checking.

A: Do you mean the red squiggly line that appears under words?

Q: Nope, I mean checking the origins of some words for casting spells. There are three in particular – jinx, hoodoo and hex – which seem worth exploring.

A: Okay, let’s get started with jinx.

Q: Okay, let’s get started with jinx – oooh JINX!

A: Ah right, you’re referring to an American childhood game of calling out “jinx!” if two people say the same thing at the same time – dating from the 1950s. British English uses “snap!” in a similar way – although that is extended to experiences, rather than just when you say the same thing.

Q: Explain?

A: Well if you tell someone that you went and saw Black Panther at the movies last night, someone may reply “snap – we did the same thing”.

Q: Okay, let’s get back to “jinx”.

A: Sure. The word dates back to the 1600s and was originally spelt “jynx” – after the name of the wryneck bird thought to have been used in witchcraft. During the 1880s, a popular American Theatre musical included a cursed character named “Jinx Hoodoo”. And by 1910, the modern spelling of “jinx” properly entered American English as baseball slang – also meaning a curse or “hoodoo” for teams. The verb “to jinx” dates from 1912.

Q: So, you mentioned “hoodoo” just now – is this related to voodoo?

A: Well yes, originally it was the name of someone who practiced voodoo, or it was a US mainland variety of the Haitian voodoo religion. The word dates from around 1870, and while the witchcraft meaning still stands, these days it is used in a more broad sense – simply meaning something that causes or brings bad luck.

Q: And the Hoodoo Gurus?

A: A rock band started in 1981. No relation to witchcraft.

Q: Oh okay, it’s not my scene anyway. Right, last one – “hex” – is this a six-sided spell?

A: Nice guess, but no, it didn’t evolve from a hexagon. In fact, it’s from the German word “hexe” meaning witch, and arrived via Pennsylvanian Germans into America during the 1830s. It continued to have witchy connotations until the early 20th century – which is when the noun meaning a curse or magic spell evolved.

Q: I always saw my hex student debt as a bit of a curse.

A: Well, that was HECS, not hex – standing for Higher Education Contribution Scheme. It was replaced in 2005 by HELP – the Higher Education Loan Program.

Q: Well, my bank balance has been jinxed ever since.

A: Fair enough.

Q: And I think this spell check is complete. Thanks!

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!

Browse posts by category
Browse posts by category

Courses starting soon

Do you have a passion for writing? Save up to 40% off 50 courses SEE COURSES


Nice one! You've added this to your cart