Jagoff or jag-off is an American derogatory slang term from Pittsburgh English meaning a person who is stupid or inept. It is most prominent in the Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania areas. The Dictionary of American Regional English defines the term as "general term of disparagement." It is an archetypical Pittsburgh word, conjuring warm and nostalgic feelings among Pittsburgh expatriates.
According to Barbara Johnstone, Professor of English and Linguistics at Carnegie Mellon University, the term has its roots in the northern British Isles, an area that supplied many immigrants to Pittsburgh. It is derived from the verb "to jag," which means "to prick or poke." Johnstone said that "Nobody thinks of these derivatives of ‘jag' as obscene."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sports journalist Dejan Kovacevic said "The true measure of any distinct language is its ability to create a word that no one else can match. And that, I always have found, is the beauty of the fairly harmless term "jagoff.""
Use in media as a typical Pittsburgh phrase
Michael Keaton, a native of Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh, uses the term in his film debut, Night Shift, in a scene where his character, a towel-boy at an adult club known as Paradise Found, fights with his boss. He uses it again in Gung Ho, in the scene before Kazuhiro tries to drown himself in the river.
The term also appears in the 1992 movie Glengarry Glen Ross. Dave Moss, the character played by Ed Harris, utters the phrase "...I get humiliated by some jagoff cop."
In Martin Scorsese's movie Casino the character played by Robert de Niro is being called a "fucking jag-off". An accident that results in a violent bar fight.
The term also made an appearance in the AMC TV show Breaking Bad Season 3 Episode 7 'One Minute'. Drug Enforcement Agent Hank Schrader receives a phone call warning of an attempt on his life. After the disguised voice finishes the warning, Schrader states, "I don't get the gag jagoff, who is this?"
In the 2012 movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie studies at a Pennsylvania highschool. In the classroom, the girl sitting next to him notices he wears a new suit and tells him: "Nice look, jagoff!".
Joe Mantegna (Character David Rossi) uses the term Jagoff in several episodes of Criminal Minds. http://www.cbs.com/shows/criminal_minds/
Controversies over the term
In 2010, Pittsburgh-native and coach of the Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball team, John Calipari raised hackles in the media when he jokingly referred to fellow Pittsburgher John Buccigross a "jagoff".
In 2012, David Shribman, a Massachusetts native and executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, issued a letter banning the use of the word "jagoff" anywhere in the newspaper. The decision was mocked by Chris Potter of the Pittsburgh City Paper, noting that Shribman's letter belied an utter lack of understanding of the actual etymology and history of the word, as he had confused it with the more base homophone for masturbation. In response The Beaver County Times used some form of the term 19 times in a single article, suggesting that Shribman has "Jagoffphobia."
- Johnstone, Barbara. "American Varieties: Steel Town Speak". Do You Speak American?. PBS. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
- "Pittsburgh Speech & Society Dictionary". University Library System, University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
- "Pennsylvania". Dictionary of American Regional English. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
- "D". Dictionary of American Regional English. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
- Sodergren, Rebecca (July 3, 2012). "Ex-Pittsburghers are hungry for Pittsburgh". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
- "Barbara Johnstone, Professor of English and Linguistics". Department of English, Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
- Potter, Chris (June 27, 2012). "Let Us Now Praise Famous Jagoffs - The latest chapter for a misunderstood word". Pittsburgh City Paper. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
- "Pirates Q&A with Dejan Kovacevic". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. March 16, 2012. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
- Vancheri, Barbara (July 3, 2012). "'Unstoppable' delivers high-octane action and suspense". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
- Owen, Rob (March 26, 2012). "Tuned In: 'SNL' speaks Pittsburghese 'n'at". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
- Miller, Mike (January 25, 2010). "Calipari's term of endearment". NBC News. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
- "There's nothing but (censored) everywhere we look". The Beaver County Times. June 30, 2012. Archived from the original on August 5, 2012. Retrieved August 5, 2012.