Carrying on in my search for unusual words and origins, time to tackle the letter J. More fascinating history lessons in etymology and strange words for your enjoyment! For previous entries on this topic, a blog category search for “vocabulary” will bring up the archived posts. Search box is on the left. I LOVE vocabulary!
Java is a reference to the island of Java in Indonesia, a place where coffee is grown. The term appears as early as 1823 in the pages of the Christian Spectator —
The most remarkable general characteristic of these works is their common relation to the Waverly Novels—a relation very much the same with that which ‘Roger’s Columbian Coffee’ bears to the real Java.
Originally java referred specifically to coffee that came from that island, but over time the meaning generalized to mean any good coffee.
It is customary in many parts of the country to have the best Java for dinner, in honor of a visiter [sic], and is considered the highest evidence of a welcome. ~The New Mirror, May 27, 1843
The term joe is of uncertain origin, not attested to until 1930, and primarily from U.S. Navy sources. The best guess as to the origin is that joe is simply a clipping of java.
Jamoke, Java, Joe – Coffee. Derived from the words Java and Mocha, where originally the best coffee came from. ~Lt. Robert Erdman’s 1931 Reserve Officer’s Manual
Jade is a pale green or white mineral, usually used as a gemstone. Spaniards who chanced upon this stone in Mexico and Peru in the 16th century believed that it had the power to cure kidney problems. So they called it piedra de ijada, which translates as “loin stone” or “flank stone.” The French shortened this to l’ejade, and later le jade, which eventually found its way into English as jade.
In Roman myth, Janus was the god of gates, doorways, and all new beginnings. So naturally, the “gateway” to the new year is named in his honor. Janus must have been easy to pick out in a crowd, considering that he had one face on the front of his head and another on the back. This gave him the handy ability to gaze into the past and the future simultaneously. Because he presided over doorways, Janus inspired another familiar English word: janitor, which in its earliest sense meant “doorkeeper”.
Juggernaut has two meanings: 1) A belief, institution, or practice that elicits blind devotion and self-sacrifice, and 2) An overwhelming, inexorable force that crushes everything in its path. Both definitions are traced to the same origin source.
In India, a 12th century Hindu temple in the town of Puri housed a huge wooden statue of the god Jagannâtha, a Sanskrit/Hindustani word meaning “lord of the world” or “world protector”.
Each year during Puri’s famous “Chariot Festival,” the statue was placed in a massive wooden cart and dragged more than a mile through deep sand to another location. Thousands of pilgrims participated in the journey, which took several days. European travelers recounting this event told tales of worshippers seized with religious frenzy and hurling themselves beneath the wagon’s wheel to be crushed in the chariot’s path. Whether this was actually the practice or merely a misinterpretation of the deaths of those caught in the crush of people pulling the over-sized wagon is unclear, but the British associated willful self-destruction with the Jagannatha during the festival of Puri every year. Thus, juggernaut came to mean anything to which we are blindly enslaved or is an irresistible crushing force.
Julep as a “syrupy drink in which medicine is given” originated from Old French julep in the 14th century. The ancient source is from Medieval Latin julapium, from Arabic julab, and from Persian gulab, meaning “a sweet drink” or “rose water.”
Centuries later, julep came to apply to another sweet beverage made from sugar, bourbon, crushed ice, and mint — a potent drink most often associated with the Kentucky Derby. Last year I wrote a detailed blog on the mint julep, including a recipe. The Mint Julep: The Very Dream of Drinks