Q&A: Jinx vs hoodoo vs hex

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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!

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