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Thursday, July 1, 2010

What's the origin of the term "mumbo jumbo"?


Search
: mumbo jumbo origin

Why
: I saw some stupid billboard that said something like "Jumbo [something] without the mumbo jumbo." And "jumbo" also means "rill big." And "gumbo" means "okra."

Answer
: Who knows! Facts:
  • The earliest references use capital letters - Mumbo Jumbo was an African deity. From 1738:
At Night, I was visited by a Mumbo Jumbo, an Idol, which is among the Mundingoes a kind of cunning Mystery... This is a Thing invented by the Men to keep their Wives in awe.
A sort of masquerade habit... which I was told... belong to Mumbo Jumbo. This is a strange bugbear... much employed by the Pagan natives in keeping their women in subjection.
  • The god's sole purpose was to scare the womenfolk.
  • The writers dismissed the idea of the god as ignorant superstition. This may have led to the definition "obscure or meaningless talk."
  • No one has mentioned such a deity since the 18th century.
  • "Mumbo jumbo" may also be a corruption of nzambi (zombie), Congolese for "god."
  • There's a rum-based West Indian drink called mumbo jum.
Source: Take Our Word

The More You Know
: The word jumbo meaning "huge" (like jumbo shrimp or jumbo popcorn) probably comes from P.T. Barnum's first elephant, Jumbo, who was first brought to the London Zoological Gardens in the mid-19th century. He was given an African name, kinda - in Swahili, jambo means "hello." (That was probably the only African word the zookeepers knew.) P.T. Barnum bought him in 1882, and his flair for publicity soon meant the world equated "Jumbo" with "ginormous."
Hey, jambo jambo.
All night long.

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