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Thursday, April 14, 2011

What's the origin of the word "jumbo"?

: jumbo etymology

Why: A newsanchor teased a story about a "jumbo jet," which I sometimes can't believe is a real name for anything. Jumbo is a name for elephants. Or strip clubs.

Answer: It might have come from the Kikongo word nzamba, which actually meant "elephant"! In 1823, jumbo was a slang term that meant "clumsy, unwieldy fellow," and then the London Zoo had a huge elephant named Jumbo that they sold to P.T. Barnum in Feb. 1882.
He was captured by traders in Abyssinia in 1861, and he died in St. Thomas, ON, in 1885 after stepping in front of a train to save the life of another baby elephant. Well, maybe. The Railway City Brewing Company in St. Thomas brews that classy Dead Elephant Ale up there.

Source: EtymOnline

The More You Know: Barnum, a trustee of Tufts College, donated Jumbo's taxidermied carcass to the school in 1889. He is the school mascot, and I guess they are called the Tufts Jumbos (and by "they" I mean whatever sports teams they have, if they even have any; I've never heard of them). Jumbo's corpse was housed in the campus's Barnum Hall with a bunch of other animal specimens.
He was a big hit with the college's athletes, who adopted him as their mascot, while their coaches invoked his strength and bravery in pre-game pep talks.

For 86 years, Jumbo was a veritable mecca for students, their parents and other campus visitors. Students would pop pennies in his trunk or give a tug on his tail to bring luck for an upcoming exam or athletics competition.
In 1975, an electrical fire wiped out the whole collection, including everything but Jumbo's tail. His ashes are now kept in a Peter Pan Peanut Butter jar on the desk of the Tufts athletics director.

1 comment:

kylie said...

excellent post. my friend lillywhitefish is heading off to tufts for grad school in the fall, so i'm definitely glad to know about penny-poppin'. i want to be sure i fit in.

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