• jitney •
jit-nee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A small bus that charges passengers a small fee, originally only a nickel. 2. An unlicensed taxicab. 3. (Obsolete regionalism) A nickel.
Notes: This is a subspecies of autobus, so you don't hear the word much. People usually just say, "I took a bus." It raises an interesting point of spelling, however. If final Y is preceded by an E, it does not change to I before plural S, as in dummy: dummies, penny: pennies. The plural of today's Good Word is jitneys. It forms its plural like monkeys and donkeys.
In Play: Here is how we use today's Good Word in making up excuses for being late for school, work, or a meeting: "Sorry, I'm late; the jitney was so packed I couldn't board." Another way of using the second meaning: "Sorry, I'm late; I caught a jitney that broke down on the way here." The third meaning became obsolete when the nickel became irrelevant.
Word History: Jitney entered the English language from another undisclosed language before 1903. Some have speculated it came from French jeton "token", but no one knows for sure. In any event we do know how the meaning slid over to a vehicle. In San Francisco and other cities small busses that charged only a nickel to ride acquired the name "jitney bus". It didn't take long for that phrase to be shortened to jitney. By 1914 the shorter form was in common use. The word fell on hard times in the 20s and 30s, when it came to mean "anything dilapidated, cheap, or ramshackle" because of its implication of cheapness, as in jitney pianos, jitney paintings, or jitney houses. More recently the word's reputation has been restored as the picture accompanying today's Good Word shows. (Now let's all thank Luke Javan, who sends us no jitney words but only very Good Words like today's.)