• mojo •
mo-jo • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: 1. Magical powers, mysterious good luck. 2. A talisman, usually a bag of secret ingredients believed to influence human behavior by practitioners of hoodoo magic. 3. Personal charm, charisma, influence.
Notes: Today's Good Word has quite a bit of mojo of its own: its meaning and history are wrapped in mystery but it has spread wildly across the language. It is a word incognito. It has been taken over for a wide range of services, such as to indicate "mobile journalists", the magazine Mother Jones, and a large array of names of people, songs, and especially of scary dogs. We are focusing today on the original word and the mystery surrounding it.
In Play: Mojo is the power to do things that seems to have no earthly origin or explanation: "In our house Daddy has the mojo but Mama has the say-so." Mojo may be general or specialized: "Melvin usually sells three cars a week but if his sales mojo is working, he can sell ten." Of course, for believers in hoodoo magic, this word has the very concrete meaning of a bag of secret ingredients that casts a spell: "Faye Slift hired a hoodoo to fix her up a mojo that would make men pay more attention to her." That's what you smell when she's in the room.
Word History: Mojo is a word from Gullah, an African-American dialect spoken in the southern United States. Although the word entered the general vocabulary from Gullah, it originates in the African witchcraft practices of hoodoo, a variant of voodoo. The Gullah word is generally spelled moco and is assumed to come from the Fula word moco'o "medicine man". Not much more is known about its origins. (Jeremy Busch and Doug Watson clearly have the mojo to capture our attention with genuinely Good Words like today's.)