or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, June 05, 2006

As The Crow Flies

Okay. So, as you know, we were in Montréal and Ottawa for a week, and as you also know, words tend to pop into my head and fester there until I can deal with them, so I often--usually--write them down or even make a voice recording into my cell phone, because cell phones can do such things nowadays and also because I am a huge geek, which you also also know.

One of the words that occurred to me in Montréal was "jaywalk", because everyone does it. You've never seen the like. The drivers and the pedestrians have a whole different set of rules from people in normal places like Halifax and wherever else you can think of, and it seems to work for them--there aren't any more traffic accidents than you'd expect from a population that size. But honestly.

So. Why does "jaywalk" mean "to walk recklessly across a street"? What does that have to do with jays?

Answers.com has a strange and, I suspect, mostly incorrect answer: "From JAY, an inexperienced person". That doesn't sound right at all!

The OED doesn't think it sounds right, either. Their reasoning, which works for me, runs more or less as follows. 1) A jay is a noisy, chattering bird. 2) A jay, by metaphor, is a noisy, chattering person. 3) Someone who's blabbing away is not paying much attention to his or her surroundings, and is therefore careless. 4) A jay, by further metaphor, is a careless person. 5) A jaywalker is someone who's not paying close attention to where she's walking, possibly because she's blabbing, possibly because she's careless.

I'm extrapolating a bit, of course. But it's all there, in between the lines. Unlike a jaywalker.


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