Jinx!

What do YOU do when you and another person say something at the same time? Is saying "Jinx" and forbidding someone to talk a recent custom, or an ancient one?

As far as I can tell, the most common response to such a situation today is that one party will say "jinx!" The other will be forbidden to talk until someone says their name. While there are variations (when I lived in Georgia, the person would say "jinx! 1, 2, 3, you owe me a coke!," which is was recorded in the midwest in the 1970s as well), the "no talking" rule is probably more common (especially since it's been on both The Simpsons and Recess). This isn't exactly the kind of thing where there's a lot of data going around, though.

Saying "jinx" at all, though, is actually a fairly new custom, even though its roots might go WAY back. Calling "jinx" when multiple people say the same thing at the same time didn't really catch on in the U.S. until after World War 2. Prior to that, a more common response was that each party simply had to name a poet (almost invariably, according to most of the books on the right) the first kid would name Shakespeare, the second would name Longfellow). Some variations had kids locking pinkies first, and sometimes it was said to be an omen: if two people said something at once, one of them was going to get a letter.

However, the origins of the game MAY go back even further, back as far as the 16th or 17th century, when there was a popular Scottish tavern game called "High Jinks" (also known as "High Pranks" or "Whig-meleery"), in which one would shout "High Jinks!" before throwing dice. Whoever lost a round had to perform a penalty, usually impersonating some character or another. If they broke character for one second, they had to take a drink, put extra towards the tab, or some other such penalty. There are two things that suggest that the modern "Jinx" game could descend from this:

1. In some, two people rolling the same number at the same time led to extra penalties.
2. According to some modern scholars (the Knapps on the right), one of the characters people commonly had to play in forfeits was a mute - ie, one who couldn't talk.

I'm not totally sure as to the validity of the second part (I couldn't find any source saying that impersonating a mute was common, though it's not hard to imagine). More peculiar, really, is that by all accounts the game was mostly forgotten by the early 19th century. Still, the similarities to the modern game are hard to ignore! It's quite possible that, while it MOSTLY died out, a handful of people still played variations that filtered their way to the playground in the 20th century.


Some other variations on saying the same thing at the same time:

- Whoever finishes first will marry first, according to Cornish folkore (late 19th century)
- Each person should touch thumbs or pinkies and make a wish (all over America, throughout the early 20th century)
- In the UK in the 50s, some kids said that they cried "White rabbits," and that whoever said it first would get a letter.
- Also in the UK, the practice of saying the name of a poet would make a wish come true, but in some places you were banned from saying "Shakespeare" (because he spears the wish) or Burns (because he burns it)
- In Iowa in the early 20th century, kids would press thumbs together and say "philopena."
- In some parts of both England and the States, kids would run to the chimney, shout "Shakespeare" up it, and make a wish. Sometimes in the states, this was followed by them saying "What goes up the chimney?/ Smoke!/ I wish this wish / may never be broke."

It's interesting that almost all of these were to do with getting good luck or wishes. But sometime after world war 2, it became (or re-became) a bit darker!

15 comments:

  1. My Grandmother, (Central New York State, b. 1909) would lock pinkies with the other person and say, "What goes through a needle?" - answer, "Thread!" - "What goes up a chimney?" - "Smoke!" - "Your wish and my wish will always be true."

    Then we'd sort of twist our hands around and struggle until one person was forced to break the lock. But I think I invented that part.

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  2. This is interesting, but when you make a quantitative statement like "The most common response to such a situation today is...", I am very curious to know how you established that fact :O Did you really do the exhaustive and extensive study that would require? Or did you ask your friends?

    The rest of your historical claims really need citations too ><

    If you're really thinking of publishing this stuff, I'd think you'd want to at least adhere to Wikipedia-level standards of evidence.

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  3. Alamala - fair enough; I really should have said "seems to be," and I'll edit accordingly, and change it further if comments suggest that the claim was way off. This is based mainly on direct observation (including what goes on when the situation comes up on television). The historical claims come mainly from the handful of books linked on the right and various folklore journals published throughout the 20th century. This site makes no claim to being academic or scholarly, though I try to flag anything I have any reason to doubt.

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  4. I was born in 1957 and my family used the locking pinky method. However, the two individuals with locked pinkys would recite and answer the following:
    "What goes up the chimney?"
    "Smoke"
    "What burns fire?"
    "Coke" (as in coal)
    Then in unison they say:
    "I hope that your hope will never be broke!"
    I don't recall exactly who taught this to us, but I believe it was from my mother's family who were from the eastern US (Finger Lakes, NY/Boston)

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  5. I spent my formative years, as they say, in Valley Stream, Long Island, New York in the 50's, but I think I learned what to say from my grandparents who lived in Brooklyn. My recollection is that upon saying the same thing simultaneously we then recited at the same time the following as we locked pinkies, "Shakespeare! What goes up the chimney? Smoke! May your wish and my wish never be broke." Then, keeping our pinkies entwined we would have our thumbs touch and say, "Thumbs, I hope it comes." I was surprised to see that there are other variations and even more surprised to see that in some locales (and times) it was apparently a bad thing to say the same thing at the same time. I prefer getting my wish granted.

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  6. When two people spoke at once when I was growing up, one of them would call "Jinx!" and count to ten. The other person had to yell "Stop" before the counter reached ten. If the counter got to ten they would then tell the other person "you owe me a Coke" (...or soda, I can't quite remember). If the other person said "stop" in time, then the counter owed them a Coke. Eventually to avoid owing someone a Coke, everything was shortened up to the first person saying "Jinx 10! You owe me a Coke"
    I also remember something about people not being allowed to talk, but I think that version might've been replaced by the counting

    (Minnesota, late 90s, early 2000s)

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  7. For us it was always just saying Jinx! And if you said that together, it was another jinx, and that repeats until some says "jinx, you owe me a soda (or ice cream) really fast" before other person says jinx. You may end up saying "Jinx, jinx, jinx...." a lot. There was also the version of not talking until someone says your name, but I never really followed that xD

    (Toronto, Ontario, early 2000s)

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  8. A variation I learned from my late husband (b. 1926 in Pittsburgh, PA): the first to sight the first star in the evening sky couldn't say anything or point, but only look up, until the other saw the star, and then would one or the other would ask: "What goes up the chimney? [Answer:] "Smoke." And in unison, pinkies entwined: "Your wish and my wish may never be broke."

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  9. My cousin and I did this so often that we eventually made an agreement not to "call jinx" on each other because otherwise we'd each spend a lot of time not being able to talk.
    I hadn't heard the "you owe me a soda" one until recently, my friend's younger sister says that one a lot.

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  10. This is the way it happens on the south side of Chicago.
    If you say something at the same time then call jinx, the other person can't talk 'til someone says their name.
    If you both call jinx at the same time you have to say "personal" real quick to give that person a "personal jinx". Then only the person who gave you the personal jinx can say your name and let you talk.

    chitownkids

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  11. Central New Jersey, 1970s

    "Jinx!"
    [lock pinkies]
    "What goes up the chimney?"
    "Smoke"
    "What comes out of your mother's pocketbook?"
    "Dust"
    "So that this wish may come true/
    Do not speak until spoken to."

    Neither could speak until someone else spoke to them.

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  12. "JINX!"
    "DOUBLE JINX!"
    "TRIPLE JINX!"
    "KNOCK ON WOOD!"
    If you were the last one to knock on wood, you "lost" but the perimeters of losing have never been set. Sometimes it's "KNOCK ON FAKE WOOD!" Because our desks at school aren't real wood.
    And sometimes if the jinxer is a real jerk they'll say "JINX! YOU OWE ME A SODA!"
    (WAY Upstate NY, present day)

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  13. Alabama, early 1990s version: "Jinx, you owe me a coke!" (And, of course, "coke" just means soda in the Deep South.)

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  14. West Texas, 70's "Pinch, poke, you owe me a coke."

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  15. previous said with a pinch and poke on the upper arm to the person who fails to say it first.

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PLEASE tell us where and when you heard your version (ie, "Chicago, early 1950s). And please be aware that the information may end up in a book sooner or later.