Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Joint Endeavor

I recently came across a reference to someone “casing the joint.” It means to inspect premises, usually with the intent of robbing them. It originated as underworld slang around 1900. But why?

Joint  in old slang meant a criminal association, based on the fact that it was a “joint endeavor.” Later it meant a place where criminals gather.  By the 1880s in the United States joint referred specifically to an opium den, and from that use its meaning spread to include illegal saloon, brothel, gambling den, night club (“juke joint”), cheap restaurant, and, finally, any kind of place or establishment. It’s also suggested that its later meanings derived from the notion of a private side-room, “joined” to the main room of a place of business, where unsavory people might gather to gamble, drink, smoke, take drugs, and conduct illegal operations. 

The verb case, meaning “enclose in a case,” dates to the 1570s. Not until around 1915 did the word enter American slang with the meaning of “inspect or examine,” perhaps from the idea of looking at something from all sides, in the same manner as a case, or box, would enclose it.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou cases every joint he frequents before he will enter it.  And he never gets too far from the door, so as to make a quick getaway if required. He’s also getting lazy, as evidenced by this reprint of a verse that appeared in this space a few years ago.  But it’s still valid!

            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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