• jukebox •
juk-bahks • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: An automatic record or CD player, decorated with a colorful display of flashing lights, that plays a song for a coin.
Notes: Today's word is based on an African word for "bad", juke, also found in juke joint, those roadside dives of the 30s and 40s that offered drinking and dancing to the driving public. The same word is also used as a verb, juke "to dance, to go out dancing". When I was growing up in the South, juking meant driving around in a car until you found a juke joint, had a few drinks, and danced away the night. Juke joints offered other pleasures, as well. At least, that is what I heard; decent young men like me avoided such places.
In Play: It is amazing that jukeboxes have not vanished from the face of the earth. Today, the computer, which can play music downloaded from the Internet, is a jukebox most of us can afford. Most clubs and cafes have adapted. Still, collectors of the traditional jukebox abound and there is a lively trade in them. New-fangled jukeboxes that play CDs are also being manufactured though, as much for their circussy light displays as their music.
Word History: This Good Word started out in the southern US, probably in the Gullah language of coastal South Carolina or Florida, where juke means "bad, wicked, disorderly". The word found its way into Gullah from a West African language like Wolof, where dzug means "to live wickedly". The word first attached itself to the juke joints (= naughty houses). The nickel-in-the-slot machines (as they were originally called) that provided dance music in juke joints soon picked up the shorter name, jukebox. It reflects the attitude of puritanical southern Christians, many of whom even today do not cotton much to dancing.
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