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High jinks

Q From Ann Byrne in the USA: If Captain Jinks is the origin of jinx, what accounts for high jinks?

A Captain Jinks presumably got his name either from high jinks or from the existing English word jink, which meant then as now to make an unexpected turn or change in direction so as to avoid or elude some pursuer. Jink in this sense is recorded from the latter part of the eighteenth century, and is assumed to be connected with your phrase high jinks, which by then had been around for the better part of a century. This referred to a game played at drinking parties. Guests threw dice to decide who should perform some daft task for the amusement of the company, or down a large drink, failure to do either requiring some forfeit. It was originally a Scots term and in that sense is long obsolete. In the early nineteenth century, the phrase could refer to a gambler who would drink with his victim to soften him up. By the 1840s it had broadened into its modern sense of any kind of high-spirited fun, noisy revelry or boisterousness. But though we know the more recent parts of their stories, nobody seems to know where either jink or high jinks come from, though the former may have been influenced by kink.

Page created 28 Aug. 1999

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Last modified: 28 August 1999.