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The jig is up

Posted by ESC on June 02, 2011 at 00:31

In Reply to: The jig is u posted by Bruce McKay on May 28, 2011 at 08:23:

: I once took a course in Black History, and we were told that the saying "The jig is up" referred to the lynching of a black... "is up" meant that the black had been hung/lynched... the rope around his neck lifted him up... now dead. In the past week, I have heard officials/speakers at two different graduation ceremonies use the phrase, and when I looked it up, I was NOT able to verify my interpretation learned in the Black History course. One of the graduation speaker was the actor Tom Hanks, and I would assume he would have pretty good knowledge of what he spoke... Anybody help me?

Nothing to do with lynching. From the archives:

JIG IS UP - "The expression suggests that the dance is over and that the time has come to pay the fiddler. However, its derivation is more complicated. 'Jig' is a very old term for a lively dance, but in Elizabethan times the word became slang for a practical joke or a trick. 'The jig is up' - meaning your trick or game is finished, has been exposed, we're onto you now - derives from this obsolete slang word, not the 'jig' that is a lively dance." From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997). Another reference says a jig was "probably a dance commonly known throughout all of western Europe fifteen centuries or more ago. But in England, around 1600, 'jig' became also a slang term for a practical term, a bit of trickery." From "2107 Curious Word Origins, Sayings & Expressions from White Elephants to a Song and Dance" by Charles Earle Funk (Galahad Book, New York, 1993). "Jig" is also a racial slur, "a derogatory term for a black man." According to "...1950 Blesh 'All Played Ragtime' 23: ...ragtime piano was called 'jig piano' (in St. Louis) and the syncopating bands, like (Scott) Joplin's, were called 'jig bands.' This term, taken from jig dances, even came a little later to be a designation for the Negro himself..." From "Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume 1, H-O, J.E. Lighter, Random House, New York, 1994. The black sheriff, played by Cleavon Little, in the Mel Brooks' movie "Blazing Saddles" did a little wordplay with the two unrelated phrases in the line: "The jig is up, AND GONE."