What’s the origin of the term "jaywalking"?

A STAFF REPORT FROM THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD

Dear Straight Dope:

What's up with the term "jaywalking"? It doesn't involve walking in a "J" pattern. Are bluejays prone to illegally crossing the road?

Dogster replies:

I grabbed this one because I figured it would be a quick and easy answer. I figured wrong. My usual word and phrase origin sources all came up dry on jaywalking – except for Old Faithful, the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED gives this definition for jaywalking: "A pedestrian who crosses the street without regard to traffic regulations." It gives this cite from the June, 1927 edition of Harper’s:   "the Bostonian … has reduced ‘a pedestrian who crosses streets in disregard of traffic signals’ to the compact ‘jaywalking.’"

Well, that doesn’t really give us the why, does it? I can only offer the theory that one of the definitions offered for the word "jay" is "a stupid or silly person; a simpleton." Combine that version of "jay" with "walker" and you could have a person who darts out between two parked cars–or, in 1927, two parked horse and buggies.

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.

STAFF REPORTS ARE WRITTEN BY THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD, CECIL'S ONLINE AUXILIARY. THOUGH THE SDSAB DOES ITS BEST, THESE COLUMNS ARE EDITED BY ED ZOTTI, NOT CECIL, SO ACCURACYWISE YOU'D BETTER KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED.

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