“I got a new curve this year,” he explained, “and I’m goin’ to pitch one or two of them tomorrow. I call it the Jazz ball because it wobbles and you simply can’t do anything with it.” The headline for the item, from April 2, 1912, was simply “Ben’s Jazz Curve.”How did the word jump from sports to music? "One likely conduit was the orchestra at Boyes Springs [Calif.] brought in to entertain the [S.F. Seals] players in 1913, led by the drummer Art Hickman and featuring Bert Kelly on banjo," Zimmer writes. Kelly soon formed a jazz band in Chicago, and claimed to be the first to use the term musically, but the exact route of transmission is still mysterious.
If you haven't yet caught up with The Word, you'll find another language story worth a click in yesterday's Globe: Billy Baker's report on the status of a Boston-specific term for soda pop, the fast-dwindling tonic. Inspired by the word's history in the just-published final volume of the Dictionary of American Regional English, Baker went to Mendon, Mass. -- on the dividing line, as far as he can tell, between the tonic-loving city folks and the soda speakers of the greater Northeast -- to do a language survey for himself. He found just one tonic user there -- a 78-year-old shop owner. That was no surprise to the language expert he consulted:
John McCarthy, a distinguished professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a scholar on the subject of Boston language, said that when he first started polling students in the early 1990s about “tonic,’’ other than a few from urban Boston, the students said it was their parents who used the word. Now, he said, it was their grandparents.
“It has become stigmatized, like ‘dungarees’ and the broad-A sound, as markers of a dialect that people don’t want to be associated with,’’ McCarthy said.
Not for me, of course; I hail from deep in pop land, from a county colored navy blue on the map at popvssoda.com. Tonic, in my dialect, is what you mix with gin and sip on a summer evening; that's an association it's hard to stigmatize.