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Jagoff or jag-off is an American English derogatory slang term from Pittsburghese meaning a person who is stupid or inept.[1] It is most prominent in the Greater Pittsburgh area.[2][3] The Dictionary of American Regional English defines the term as a "general term of disparagement".[4] It is an archetypical Pittsburgh word, conjuring feelings of delight among Pittsburgh expatriates.[5]

According to Barbara Johnstone, professor of English and linguistics at Carnegie Mellon University,[6] the term has its roots in the northern British Isles, an area that supplied many immigrants to Pittsburgh.[7] It is derived from the verb "to jag". which means "to prick or poke".[7] Johnstone said that among local Pittsburghers, "Nobody thinks of these derivatives of 'jag' as obscene",[7] though non-local fellow Americans often mishear "jagoff" as the much more offensive slang term "jack off".

Use in media and public events[edit]

The term was often used by Michael Keaton, a native of the Pittsburgh region, in many of his early films, most notably Night Shift and Gung Ho.

The term was used in the 2010 Denzel Washington film Unstoppable as a nod to the fact that the movie was filmed in Pittsburgh.[8]

SNL writer/actor Seth Meyers, the son of a Pittsburgh native, used the term and a Pittsburghese accent during a sketch entitled "Bar" in which he also performed a Bill Cowher impression.[9]

On December 8, 2015, Mayor John Fetterman of Braddock, Pennsylvania, declared Donald Trump a jagoff in a press release[10] after Trump called for a ban of all Muslims travelling to the United States.[11]

On July 30, 2016, Pittsburgh native Mark Cuban, a technology entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, referred to Trump as a "jagoff" during a speech in Pittsburgh, endorsing Hillary Clinton for president of the United States.[12]

The term was used on Final Space season one, episode seven. The artificial intelligence, H.U.E., states that "KVN is a jag-off, Gary."[13]

The term was used in season one, episode twelve of The Good Place, where Eleanor Shellstrop says to an activist outside a grocery store, "look what you made me do, jagoff." [14]

Controversies over the term[edit]

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 as a "jagoff".[15]

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.[7] 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, "jack off", common slang for masturbation.[7] In response The Beaver County Times used some form of the term 19 times in a single article, suggesting that Shribman has "Jagoffphobia".[16]


  1. ^ Johnstone, Barbara. "American Varieties: Steel Town Speak". Do You Speak American?. PBS. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  2. ^ "Pittsburgh Speech & Society Dictionary". University Library System, University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  3. ^ "Pennsylvania". Dictionary of American Regional English. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  4. ^ "D". Dictionary of American Regional English. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  5. ^ Sodergren, Rebecca (July 3, 2012). "Ex-Pittsburghers are hungry for Pittsburgh". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  6. ^ "Barbara Johnstone, Professor of English and Linguistics". Department of English, Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  7. ^ a b c d e 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.
  8. ^ Vancheri, Barbara (July 3, 2012). "'Unstoppable' delivers high-octane action and suspense". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  9. ^ Owen, Rob (March 26, 2012). "Tuned In: 'SNL' speaks Pittsburghese 'n'at". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  10. ^ "Fetterman responds to Trump's call for Muslim ban by calling..." WPXI. Retrieved 2015-12-08.
  11. ^ "Donald Trump: Ban all Muslim travel to U.S. - CNNPolitics.com". CNN. Retrieved 2015-12-08.
  12. ^ "Mark Cuban Calls Trump 'Jagoff' as He Makes Debut for Clinton". 31 July 2016. Retrieved 2 February 2018 – via www.bloomberg.com.
  13. ^ Amick, Christopher; Mekler, Ben (2018-04-16). "Chapter 7". Final Space. Season 1. 13.23 minutes in. TBS, Netflix. Retrieved 2018-11-26. KVN is a jag-off Gary. You know that.
  14. ^ Kristen Bell as Eleanor Shellstrop (19 January 2017). The Good Place: 12, Mindy St. Claire (TV). NBC. Event occurs at 1:28-1:35.
  15. ^ Miller, Mike (January 25, 2010). "Calipari's term of endearment". NBC News. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  16. ^ "There's nothing but (censored) everywhere we look". The Beaver County Times. June 30, 2012. Archived from the original on August 6, 2012. Retrieved August 5, 2012.