Printable Version
Pronunciation: jay-wawk Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive

Meaning: To cross a street illegally: against a red light or in the middle of the street between crosswalks.

Notes: Today's odd Good Word is a back-formation from jaywalker (originally a jay walker), which is the agent noun of this family. The other members are regular Germanic formations: jaywalking is both the process noun and adjective. The hyphen is no longer necessary.

In Play: Finding metaphorical uses for today's word is difficult, so let's begin with the normal usage: "Jay Walker is aptly named—he remains unconvinced that traffic lights apply to pedestrians." Its primary metaphorical service is to indicate a relatively insignificant crime: "He absconded with company funds. That's a little more serious than jaywalking!"

Word History: This word comes from an era when jay had several metaphorical meanings, not all of which are still current: (1) a showy or flashy woman (or, perhaps, one of light character), (2) a person absurdly dressed, a 'sight', and finally, (3) a naïve person who doesn't know the ropes. Around the turn of the century, jay in this last sense became an adjective, which attached itself to walker under the assumption that jaywalkers were naïve of big-city laws. (Today we must thank Fiona Boneham who, I am sure, dresses demurely and never breaks traffic laws, for suggesting we explore this word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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