I’ve got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications.
I thought I’d share some of this random crap with you in the form of another acronym-ific series. I give you – Word Origins from Left Field – that’s right, the WOLF. Er… ignore the fact that the “from” doesn’t fit.
The suggestion for today’s WOLF came from my crit partner, RC Lewis. I was stumped a couple of weeks ago on what to WOLF about when she asked me where the term jaywalker comes from. Great question. And by the way – you guys can ask me stuff, too!
While jaywalking is a fairly laughable crime, it is in fact not legal to cross the street anywhere other than a crosswalk, or to cross against a traffic signal. Americans might have a laugh at it, but I actually did see a jaywalker get clocked when I was in Paris. Don’t eff with the French.
Is it really that dangerous to jaywalk? While our speed limits and congested streets keep things pretty safe for footers, it hasn’t always been this way. The first instance of the use of jaywalker was from the Chicago Tribune in 1909 (although it didn’t make the dictionary until 1917). Back in 1909, people were adjusting to even having cars in the streets, and speed limits were a thing of the future. Horses and buggies kept a pretty calm pace, except when a horse flipped it’s lid – and if it did, a sign saying, “Hey, not so fast, Mr. Horse,” wasn’t going to stop him.
So city streets in the early 1900’s were actually pretty dangerous. Motorists pretty much did as they pleased – which made horses and buggy drivers mad – and pedestrians pretty much kept doing what they’d been doing… crossing the street wherever they felt. And while that might fly with Black Beauty, Mr. Model T didn’t necessarily have the stop-on-a-dime that we do today – or a speed limit to tell him not to go so fast in the first place.
City dwellers caught on pretty fast – cross on the crosswalk or at your own peril. But newbies to the city and skyline gazers wandered into the road fairly often, earning the ire of those behind the wheel. At the time, rural folk and country dwellers were often called jays, thus anyone inexperienced in crossing a city street and foolish enough to walk in front of cars were… jaywalkers.