100 Years Ago This Week
San Francisco Bulletin
What's Not In The News
By Ernest J Hopkins
April 5, 1913 — In Praise of “Jazz,” a Futurist Word Which Has Just Joined the Language.
This column is entitled “What’s not in the news,” but occasionally a few things that are in the news leak in. We have been trying for some time to keep one of these things out, but hereby acknowledge ourselves powerless and surrender.
This thing is a word. It has recently become current in the Bulletin office, through some means which we cannot discover but would stop up if we could. There should be every precaution taken to avoid the possibility of any more such words leaking in to disturb our vocabularies.
This word is “Jaz.” It is also spelt “Jazz,” and as they both sound the same and mean the same, there seems to be no way of settling the controversy.
The office staff is divided into two sharp factions, one of which upholds the single z and the other the double z. To keep them from coming to blows, much Christianity is required.
“Jazz” (we change the spelling each time so as not to offend either faction) can be defined, but it cannot be synonymized. If there were another word that exactly expressed the meaning of “jaz,” “jazz” would never have been born. A new word, like a new muscle, only comes into being when it has long been needed.
This remarkable and satisfactory-sounding word, however, means something like life, vigor, energy, effervescence of spirit, joy, pep, magnetism, verve, virility, ebulliency, courage, happiness—oh, what’s the use?—JAZZ.
Nothing else can express it.
When you smile at the office-boy (time: 7:30 a.m.) as though you thought him nice, that is “jaz.” When you hit the waiter for serving you cold waffles, that is “jaz.” When you work until midnight, then get up and work until midnight again without cursing your boss, that is “jaz.” When you look upon a girl and she loves you, that is “jazz.”
Some of the utter usefulness and power of this wonderful word now begins to appear.
You can go on flinging the new word all over the world, like a boy with a new jack-knife. It is “jazz” when you run for your train; “jazz” when you sock the umpire; “jazz” when you demand a raise; “jaz” when you hike thirty-five miles of a Sunday; “jazz” when you simply sit around and beam so that all who look beam on you. Anything that takes manliness or effort or energy or activity or strength of soul is “jaz.”
We would not have you apprehend that this new word is slang. It is merely futurist language, which as everybody knows is more than mere cartooning.
“Jazz” is a nice word, a classic word, easy on the tongue and pleasant to the ears, profoundly expressive of the idea it conveys—as when you say a home-run hitter is “full of the old jaz.” (Credit Scoop [Gleeson].) There is, and always has been, an art of genial strength; to this art we now victoriously give the splendid title of “jazz.”
The sheer musical quality of the word, that delightful sound like the crackling of a brisk electric spark, commends it. It belongs to the class of onomatopoeia. It was important that this vacancy in our language should have been filled with a word of proper sound, because “jaz” is a quality often celebrated in epic poetry, in prize-fight stories, in the tale of action of the meditative sonnet; it is a universal word, and must appear well to all society.
That is why “pep,” which tried to mean the same but never could, failed; it was roughneck from the first, and could not wear evening clothes. “Jazz” is at home in bar or ballroom; it is a true American.
To conclude, just a few examples of its use.
“Miss Eugenia Jefferson-Lord, was clad in a pink pongee creation suitable for a rainy day, and of great jaz.” (Society Notes.)
“Our Harry, sighting true for once, swung the willow against the pill with all his jazz.” (Baseball account.)
“Though fatally shot, the unfortunate captain still had sufficient jaz to murmur ‘He done it’ in the ears of the police.” (Murder story.)
“All the worl’ am done gone crazy.
Yassah, sure it has;
How mah brain am reeling dazy,
Sighin’ for the ol’, ol’ jazz!” (Plantation melody.)
“And Saturn strode athwart the cedarn grove,
Filled with the jaz that makes Creation move!” (Paradise Lost.)