Monday, December 29, 2014

The Joint Is Jumpin’

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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 “opium-smoking den.”

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.

The 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 “classy joints.”

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.

            My joints are worn but they don’t creak yet,
            My plumbing’s old but doesn’t leak yet,
            My hair is thin and turning white,
            I cannot see things well at night.
            My heart needs help to keep its rhythm,
            My lungs, I’m sure, have things wrong with ‘em.
            My knees are getting very wobbly—
            I have a few years left, most prob’ly.
            But though I’m crumbling bit by bit,           
            I am not ready yet to quit.
            Instead, I think that I would rather
            Find all those rosebuds I should gather.


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