Both With 'J'
Off the Wall, November
30, 2012

I happened to be crossing one of our city streets recently, illegally, I may add, when I saw a woman not far from me doing the very same thing. Thinking I should follow in her footsteps, I would eventually get there at the same time.

As I neared closer to her, I commented, “Guess we are both Jaywalking together, but then you can’t be a Jaywalker because you are a woman.” With that she responded, “But my name begins with the letter “J” as in Jo Ann, so I’m not far off from “Jay.”

Two things I love about Latrobe. First, the majority of people talk to you when spoken to, and second, as with this young lady, threw in a bit of humor, to boot.

Now for all you legalists, I am not advocating what we did, but when it’s clearly seen on the streets of our neighborhood that nothing is coming, I find it perfectly OK even though it is wrong, if you get my drift.

I think certain times of the day and what day of the week have a lot to do with that. For example, I recall one early Sunday morning in summer, I actually walked up Ligonier Street from Depot Street all the way to Payne and Dumont before I detected a vehicle coming my way. I found I could make longer strides at a faster clip without worrying about getting tripped up on the sidewalk. Was this legal? Not by a long shot, but the street was desolate like it is at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night. No, I have never walked the streets at that time of night nor will I. That is what I classify under the stupidity category.

Anyway, getting back to jaywalking. I have to wonder how many readers actually know where the term came from. I didn’t before I looked it up. This is what I learned from en.wikipedia.org:

“Jaywalking is a term commonly used in North American to refer to illegal or reckless pedestrian crossing of a roadway. Examples include a pedestrian crossing between intersections without yielding to drivers and starting to cross a crosswalk at a signalized intersection without waiting for a permissive indication to be displayed. In the United States, state statutes generally reflect the Uniform Vehicle Code in requiring drivers to yield the right of way to pedestrians at crosswalks; at other locations, crossing pedestrians are either required to yield to drivers or, under some conditions, are prohibited from crossing.”

I just want to clear the air. Would I ever “cross without yielding to drivers?” Don’t count on it, sister. This is where I insert my terminology – doing something rightfully wrong, if there is such usage of our ever-growing vocabulary. It’s surprising what a little patience can do to save one’s misfortune. Yes, we do live in a “now-society” where people can’t wait even a minute or so. I’m reminded of a motorist that actually passed our car in the slow lane and even cut in front of us in the fast lane only to be held up at a red light in front of us. He probably thought he would be long gone along Industrial Blvd. That wasn’t the case, now was it?

Onward. “According to one historian, the earliest known use of the word jaywalker in print was in the Chicago Tribune in 1909. (The earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1917.) The term’s dissemination was due in part to deliberate effort by promoter of automobiles, such as local auto club and dealer, to redefine streets as places where pedestrians do not belong.”

From www.worldwidewords.org we read, Michael Quinion in his website World Wide Words states: “From around the last quarter of the nineteenth century, jay had been a slang term in North American for a stupid, gullible, ignorant or provincial person, a rustic, bumpkin or simpleton. I would guess it refers to the noisy chattering of blue jays. The jay that I see on my country walks is just the right word for it – jay was an insulting term for a foolish, chattering person back in the 1500’s. It’s not hard to see how country cousins, unversed to city way, could have had this well established sobriquet attached to them by supercilious metropolitans.”

I’m glad I didn’t live back then. To think that anyone in this area would describe me with those adjectives would cause me to think one is generalizing by categorically plopping me with undesirables. Heavens to Betsy, if that would ever happen!

So, next time you may encounter either the coffee-carrying Latrobean, Jo-Anne walking, or me, Jaywalking, know we tried to do it safely. That’s the important thing.


- Paul J. Volkmann
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