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- A type of curse placed on a person that makes them prey to many minor misfortunes and other forms of bad luck;
- A person afflicted with a similar curse, who, while not directly subject to a series of misfortunes, seems to attract them to anyone in his vicinity.
- An object or person that brings bad luck.
- A penalty that one person can invoke on another when the two of them say the same thing at the same time.
The superstition can also be referenced when talking about a future event with too much confidence. A statement such as "We're sure to win the contest!" can be seen as a jinx because it tempts fate, thereby bringing bad luck. The event itself is referred to as "jinxed".
In a similar way, calling attention to good fortune – e.g. noting that a certain athlete is having a streak of particularly good fortune – is thought to "jinx" it. If the good fortune ends immediately afterward, the jinx is then blamed for the turn of events, often seriously.
The etymology of the word is obscure.
- It may come from Latin iynx (from Greek ἴυγξ), that is, the wryneck bird, which has occasionally been used in magic and divination and is remarkable for its ability to twist its head almost 180 degrees while hissing like a snake. The Jynx bird is found in Africa and Eurasia.
- It may be the plural of jink treated as singular.
The Online Etymology Dictionary entry for jinx states that the word was first used, as a noun, in American English in 1911. It traces it to a 17th-century word jyng, meaning "a spell", and ultimately to the Latin word iynx.
Barry Popik of the American Dialect Society suggests that the word should be traced back to an American folksong called Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines, which was first popular in 1868. One verse in one version goes:
- The first day I went out to drill
- The bugle sound made me quite ill,
- At the Balance step my hat it fell,
- And that wouldn't do for the Army.
- The officers they all did shout,
- They all cried out, they all did shout,
- The officers they all did shout,
- "Oh, that's the curse of the Army."
The reference to various misfortunes and a curse lend plausibility to this.
A Mr Jinx appeared in Ballou's monthly magazine - Volume 6 - Page 276 in 1857.
The earliest use of the word "jinx" to refer to something other than the bird seems to have been in the context of baseball; in the short story The Jinx (1910) – later collected in the book The Jinx: Stories of the Diamond (1911) – Allen Sangree wrote:
By th' bones of Mike Kelly, I'll do it! Yes, sir, I'll hoodoo th' whole darned club, I will. I'll put a jinx on 'em or my name ain't Dasher, an' that goes!
But the ball players instantly knew the truth. "A jinx, a jinx," they whispered along the bench. "Cross-eyed girl sittin' over there back o' third. See her ? She's got Th' Dasher. Holy smoke, look at them eyes!"
Like the discreet and experienced manager he was, McNabb did not chasten his men in this hour of peril. He treated the matter just as seriously as they, condoling with The Dasher, bracing up the Yeggman, execrating the jinx and summoning all his occult strategy to outwit it.
and later referenced in Pitching at a Pinch (1912), Christy Mathewson explained that "a jinx is something which brings bad luck to all ball player." Baseball's most common "jinx" belief is that talking about a pitcher's ongoing no-hitter will cause it to be ended. See also Curse of the Bambino.