A recent Houston Chronicle article about
barbecue joints explored the origin of the word joint as applied to an eating or
drinking establishment. As the article
pointed out, in addition to barbecue joints, we speak of “hamburger joints,”
“beer joints,” and “pizza joints.” In this sense the word means a “restaurant
or bar that is informal, simply decorated, and inexpensive.”
Originally, a joint was something not so
savory. It is recorded in English slang in 1877 meaning a “place where persons
meet for shady activities.” In the U. S., the first use of joint was recorded in Harper’s Magazine in 1883, meaning an
The etymology is thought to be based on the
fact that these places for illicit activities—drugs, gambling, or liquor—were
usually separate side rooms “joined” to a legal operation such as a restaurant
or retail establishment.
Joint took on a more general connotation of disrepute in
the 1940s when juke joints were
widespread in the United States, especially in the South. These were working-class
African-American drinking and dancing clubs, noted for their rowdiness. Juke is derived from the word joog in Gullah, a Creole language in
coastal South Carolina, Georgia and north Florida. It means “wicked and
disorderly.” The music in these clubs gave rise to the term juke box.
Oxford English Dictionary also
cites joint as a late 19th-century
term for outdoor bookmakers' booths that contained various gambling
paraphernalia joined together in movable segments.
Eventually joint lost the connotation of “disreputable” and referred to any
casual eating or drinking place. Today even upscale restaurants are sometimes referred to as
A joint is similar to a dive, an American term for a “shabby and
disreputable bar,” so-called because such places were usually in basements.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou avoids joints and
dives with their stale air and dirty glasses. He prefers the refined elegance
of his own home, where he can drink straight from the bottle.
joints are worn but they don’t creak yet,
plumbing’s old but doesn’t leak yet,
hair is thin and turning white,
cannot see things well at night.
heart needs help to keep its rhythm,
lungs, I’m sure, have things wrong with ‘em.
knees are getting very wobbly—
have a few years left, most prob’ly.
though I’m crumbling bit by bit,
am not ready yet to quit.
I think that I would rather
all those rosebuds I should gather.