J is for Jest

J is for Jest — Write RightA jest differs from a joke. The latter aims to cause laughter at no one’s expense. The former, however, almost always mocks a person or event. A court jester seemingly holds a perilous position; he is meant to jeer at the court and its behaviors without causing offense. It seems that a jester, like an acrobat, requires a firm sense of balance, as well as intuition about which way the wind blows and how delicate the wire is upon which he or she stands.

Jest is but one of many words that begin with “j,” although the actual section in the dictionary comprises only a few pages. (As a side note, the section contains all sorts of words related to jokes, joking, and acrobatic activities like juggling. See: jongleur.) Consonants find it difficult to follow the letter “j,” leaving mostly vowels to follow in its wake. Here are some “j” words to add to the lexicon, albeit maybe not the everyday one.


Noun. [Jack + a (of) + Lent.] (1598) A small, stuffed puppet set up to be pelted for fun in Lent. A simple or insignificant person.

(Ashes continue to be a Lent tradition, but the Jack-a-Lent seems to have lost favor.)


Noun. (1801) One of the pieces used in the game jackstraws. Plural but singular in construction: a game in which a set of straws or thin strips is let fall in a heap with each player in turn trying to remove one at a time without disturbing the rest.

(The game of jackstraw continues to be played by children today; however, it typically goes by the moniker “pick-up-sticks.”)


Noun. [Often capitalized, Joseph Jacquard.] (1841) A loom apparatus or head for weaving figured fabrics; a loom having a jacquard. A fabric of intricate variegated weave or pattern.

(The knight wore a jacquard containing his family’s crest, a gryphon taking flight.)


Verb. [Origin unknown.] (1561) To speak or cry out with derision or mockery ~ verb transitive: to deride with jeers: TAUNT. Synonym: see SCOFF.

Noun. (1625) A jeering remark or sound: TAUNT.

(The new king endured the people’s jeers as he promenaded toward the temple.)


Noun. [From the Middle English jetteson. From the Anglo-French getteson. From the Old French getaison, action of throwing. From the Latin jactation-, jactatio; from jactatus, present participle of jactare—more at JET.] (1400s) A voluntary sacrifice of cargo to lighten a ship’s load in time of distress.

Verb Transitive. (1848) To make jettison of. To cast off as superfluous or encumbering: DISCARD. To drop from an airplane or spacecraft in flight. Adjective: jettisonable.

(Once the captain recognized the pirates’ flag, he ordered the crew to jettison the cargo.)


Noun, plural. [Perhaps an alteration of delirium tremens.] (1885) JITTERS.

(Because her nervousness before a show took the form of incontrollable giggles, her bass guitarist took to calling it “jimjams” rather than “jitters.”)


Noun. [Probably an alteration of jynx (wryneck); from the use of wrynecks in witchcraft.] (1911) One that brings bad luck; also: the state or spell of bad luck brought on by a jinx.

Verb transitive. (1917) To foredoom to failure or misfortune: bring bad luck to.

(No one wanted to bring Jim’s little sister along on their explorations since she often jinxed them; they always got caught by someone’s mother whenever she accompanied them.)


Noun. (1938) A jazz variation of the two-step in which couples sing, balance, and twirl in standardized patterns and often with vigorous acrobatics. One who dances the jitterbug.

Verb intransitive. (1939) To dance the jitterbug. To move around or back and forth with quick, often jerky, movements, especially to confuses or disconcert an opponent in sports.

(The boxer used a form of the jitterbug to confuse his opponent, the assumed winner of the bout.)

Job’s Comforter

Noun. [From the tone of the speeches made to Job by his friends.] (1738) One who discourages or depresses while seemingly giving comfort and consolation.

(Many times, a friend should be quiet rather than attempting to counsel or cheer a person who is suffering; the counselor often ends up a Job’s comforter instead of a trusted confidante.)


Noun. (1300s) The quality or state or being jolly: MERRIMENT. British: a festive gathering. Synonym: see MIRTH.

(Considering the word “jollity” dates to the fourteenth century, it could have been used to describe the original Saint Nick.)


Noun. [From the Latin, second person plural imperfect of jubilare.] (1549) The 100th Psalm in the Authorized Version. Not capitalized: a joyous song or outburst. An expression of great joy.

(When the angels announce Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, they jubilate.)


Noun. [From the Hindi, Jagannāth; literally, lord of the world, title of Vishnu.] (1632) A massive, inexorable force or object that crushes whatever is in its path. Chiefly British: a large, heavy truck.

(The British co-opted the word Jagannāth, using the form “juggernaut” to describe an insurmountable force.)


Verb transitive. (c. 1788) To erect, construct, or arrange in a makeshift fashion.

(“Jury-rig” often gets spelled incorrectly, perhaps because its definition is similar to that of “jerry-build” and “jerry-built.” Regardless, no one wants to hire a homebuilder known for jury-rigging or jerry-building.)

What are your favorite “j” words? Share them in the comments.

Image: Stephanie Beavers (Creative Commons)