Jinx

captain jinks

A jinx [jingks], in popular superstition and folklore, is: 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; and an object/ person that brings bad luck.

Jinx is also a children’s game (although not necessarily played only by children) with myriad rules and penalties that occurs when two people unintentionally or intentionally speak (or type) the same word or phrase simultaneously.

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. The most dramatic historical example of this type of jinxing is the RMS Titanic which was said to be unsinkable, then sunk on its maiden voyage. 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, if only jokingly.

The etymology of the word is obscure. It may come from Latin ‘iynx,’ 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. 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.

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