Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Voodoo, Hoodoo, You Do...

Juju. It seems to have inserted itself violently into my current working vocabulary sometime in the last year or so. "Weird juju" or "bad juju" seem to be the sole phrases in which it's used. And I'm not the only one; it pops up everywhere in conversation. I got to wondering what it meant really (I know that in my mind it means sort of like voodoo or some hint of dire magic, but really what did it mean) and where did it come from and how long has it been a current slang?

I had an odd experience about 10 years ago where I encountered the phrase "sea change." Wow, thought I, what a lovely and creative way to express something that has altered profoundly. What a unique, original way to express it! And then--I encountered the phrase somewhere else. And somewhere else again. And in yet another place. And I heard it on the radio. And someone used it at work. And it was in magazines, fiction, newspapers. Everywhere. As if the world had undergone a sea change in its vocabulary overnight. But, in fact, I learned, the phrase had been in common use for a very, very long time, and most anyone I asked was familiar with it. Somehow for 40 years I had managed to completely avoid noticing a phrase that probably appears at least once in every novel or magazine ever published.

I tell you that story to tell you that juju has not only been around for longer than the last year or so, and that it is in fact in the dictionary, and to boot dates back to at least 1894 in American English. It originated in the languages of west Africa, probably related to the Hausa word jùju meaning fetish--as in the charm type of fetish. Its modern meaning is synonymous with charm, voodoo, fetish, or the supernatural power ascribed to such things.

Sooooo has the word been in hiding for all these years and is just coming into popular use? Or have I been sea changed again?

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, Juju Beans have been around for a long time, but don't know what the connection is between the word and the candy. I remember growing up and making reference to "bad juju" and "good juju" and always thought it was just a type of magic or something karma-like. So, yes, I'm thinking you've been sea-changed again.

Elf said...

Huh, I hate when that happens. Jujube (often pronounced JU ju bee) refers to the fruit of a certain kind of tree--"the edible drupaceaous fruit of any of several trees of the buckthorn family"--from Middle Latin jujuba--so that's been around for a while, too. And there's a Jujube candy that's fruit-flavored. "Juju beans" isn't in my dictionary, but I wonder whether it's an Englishification of ju-ju-be, which does sound a bit like "ju ju bean".

So here are further research topics left as exercises for the student: Who are the Hausa and how did a word of theirs enter the English language? Source of "juju beans"? Popularity and use of "juju" in the years from 1894 to the present?

Elf said...

And, oh yeah, what is "drupaceous" (sorry, misspelled above) and what does the fruit look like?

Anonymous said...

I've been trying to find out what juju beans are. I've seen photos of juju bean rattles... people nicknaming themselves juju bean... it's driving me nuts.

Elf said...

I'm not having much more luck. I've found one site that says that the rattles are juju bean pods, which come from west Africa, and another that says they're juju seeds (AKA beans), which are grown in Nigeria (http://www.elebuteafricanartsandcrafts.com/RATTLES%20Juju%20Beans.htm). But can I find any reference anywhere online to the type of juju tree (presumably tree) on which these grow? Or even in my very own encyclopedia britannica? Noooo--

Anonymous said...

I think I've found some closure. Juju bean rattles are just dried palm seeds. It looks like people in that part of the world attribute the word juju to things that draw charm. They also make juju hats for ceremonies.

Jujubes on the other hand are gummy candy- they also have jujyfruit candy. I can see how jujubes turned into juju beans.

I was actually thinking of naming my child photography business juju beans... but I think not.

Anonymous said...

Juju beans were Hitler's least favorite candy.

Anonymous said...

Juju Bean is a character in my latest novel which is why I looked him up in the first place. You've all been a big help thanx...Scoosh.

Anonymous said...

My nick name has always been juju, even before i was a toddler and that came about by chance as my brother (2 1/2 yrs at the time) just started calling me juju out of the blue really. It stuck and has evolved over the years to jujju with a 'double J'. That had to change as I live in East Africa and anytime I would introduce myself as 'juju' to an indigenous african, i would almost always get a raised eyebrow look until I clarified to them how I got the name...nowadays I say "Hi, I'm jujju with a double 'J' so don't get worried" then, to lighten it further, I often add, "and my second name is Beans, you can call me jujjubeans!"(as one word)...I'm currently contemplating starting a media company and guess what I'd like to call it?...given up?....JujjuBeans Creative Media...still debating though

Elf said...

Great story!

Anonymous said...

There's a kind of film in Nigeria called Juju movies, because they have supernatural elements. But, I read in THE POISONWOOD BIBLE how some people in the USA call peanuts juju beans.

Elf said...

Interesting, haven't ever heard peanuts called juju beans but then I haven't lived everywhere in the U.S. Just did another search online and am not finding that, but it might be obscure enough that it doesn't show up OR commonly understood enough that no one bothers to explain it!

Anonymous said...

No its a type of spell. They make people argue. Its better to not need spells like that. But some people....?