1 March 2015

Mojo

Muddy Waters - McKinley Morganfield (April 4, 1913 – April 30, 1983)
The English language is forever changing. That's part of its electric beauty. New words and phrases are absorbed as others are filed away on dusty shelves marked "archaic".

There's no logic to anybody's feelings about language and I am just the same. There are some new words and phrases or not-so-subtle grammatical changes that really get my back up while other changes or additions cause me no grief at all.

I hate "standout" - as in "Who do you think the standout player was?" and I hate the youthful modern tendency to use words which are pretty much the direct opposite of what you're really trying to say as in "The film was wicked!" or "That's sick!". "Vanilla" is a word that has recently been used to describe things or ideas that are bland, or middle of the road but I will never use the word in that way just as I will not misuse the word "narrative" which has become popular with certain politicians and commentators.

But I like "cool" and I like "chugger", "bookaholic", "cyberbully", "gastropub", "widget" and "trolling". Such added words seem to fill gaps and aid enable clearer communication. Another term I like is "mojo". We all know what it feels like when our mojo isn't working and we all know how it feels when we have got our mojo back. It's to do with being on top form or simply not being ourselves. I was curious about the term and decided to do a little investigation.

It probably originated in the deep South of America. In 1926, a certain Newbell Niles Puckett published this definition in his "Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro": "The term mojo is often used by the Mississippi Negroes to mean 'charms, amulets, or tricks', as 'to work mojo' on a person or 'to carry a mojo'." Some academics have connected the term with sexual libido so that getting your mojo back may have once meant rediscovering sexual prowess.

That meaning is certainly heavily hinted at in the song "Got My Mojo Working" which bluesman Muddy Waters gave to the world in 1957:-

Got my mojo working, but it just won't work on you
Got my mojo working, but it just won't work on you
I wanna love you so bad till I don't know what to do
I'm going down to Louisiana to get me a mojo hand
I'm going down to Louisiana to get me a mojo hand
I'm gonna have all you women right here at my command

That song spread the term "mojo" around the world but its everyday usage was very subdued in Great Britain through the sixties, seventies and eighties. It is only within the last twenty years that the term has been truly established on this side of the Atlantic so that now most people would not bat an eyelid if you slipped the term into ordinary conversation... "I just don't know what's up with me these days I've lost my mojo" or "I feel I've got my mojo back at long last!"

22 comments:

  1. Are we to assume then that your mojo is up and running at 100% again after your recent health issues? Make the most of it!

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    1. Not quite there yet Brian but certainly getting there. Thanks for asking.

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  2. So many words used over and over and over these days annoy the hell out of me. "Awesome", "absolutely", "like"...used constantly and constantly where they're not meant to be used. "Bro" annoys me, too. And another word that is being tossed around all the time at present, here in the Land Down Under, anyway...as if it's just been discovered or created is "bespoke". It's the "in-word" at present. And you're not in with the "in-crowd" if you don't use it!

    There are others but at the risk of sounding like a grumpy old lady....

    This grumpy old lady is signing off for now. :)

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    1. Stay off the gin Lee! I share your annoyance about such thoughtless and imprecise usage but are there any newly arrived words and phrases that you like?

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    2. Probably not! Sluuuurrrrrrpppp! ;)

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    3. I'm with you on "Bro" Lee and the first time I heard "bespoke" was on Escape to the Country. Took me a while to work out that here we would once probably have said " tailor made" in the old days and everyone would know it was nothing to do with clothes ! I'm afraid "bespoke" isn't a word that has made it into my every-day vocabulary yet.

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  3. Chugger? Haven't a clue and I can't be arsed to Google it; doesn't sound the sort of word I'd want to use.

    Trolling is so old a word it would be archaic if not for being in such common use, especially among sport fishermen.

    Ah, Muddy Waters, the first of my CD's to be stolen here.

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    1. A chugger is someone who accosts you in the street but for a charity. So it is a cross between "mugger" and "charity". I doubt that you have this problem in downtown Luanda. Unemployed students often have a go at being chuggers as they get commission.

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  4. I didn't start to hear mojo until about 15 years ago. The term must have stayed in the south until later.

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    1. But hey Red man, is YOUR mojo working dude?

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  5. I immediately thought of Jim Morrison from The Doors singing (chanting) in a frantic crescendo:

    Get your mojo rising
    Rising, rising
    Mojo rising
    Rising, rising

    This was from "L.A. Woman".

    Classic.



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    1. Ah, it's a long time since I heard that song. Thanks for the reminder Jennifer.

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  6. Gastropub - there's a great word.

    Ms Soup

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    1. I's used quite widely in England now. Not a pub that specialises in drinks but one which has morphed into a restaurant (gastronomy).

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  7. Words and phrases have been introduced into the German language, too, some of which I detest while I am fine with others. I just don't like it when journalists, who should be at the forefront of promoting good language by their writing, get it wrong or - even worse - parrot-like simply repeat a phrase they have heard somewhere else and think they are oh so trendy and modern if they use it, too.

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    1. Yes Miss Arian you have nailed a point that irks me too - that tendency to unthinkingly follow the crowd - like sheep - in new language use. Until recently in England nobody ever began sentences with "So". Now it's becoming widespread.

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  8. My job was to craft words so as to ensure that they were incapable of being misinterpreted. Unless, that is, the purpose was to make them deliberately capable of more than one interpretation. In such a situation grammar and punctuation are important. I was a fully paid-up member of the Grammar Police. Since I retired I have become less and less concerned with grammatical usage provided that when people do say something that can be misinterpreted they don't cry when it is.

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    1. So you were a speech writer for Derek Hatton?

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  9. PS Muddy Waters.....wicked. Oops. Sorry. Cool.

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    1. Muddy Waters was of course a pseudonym. I wonder what yours would be Graham? Bulging Sporran? Knotty Ash? Mine would be...mmm, let me see - Yorkshire Pudding!

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  10. "Mojo" is one of the "new" words that I really like YP. Perhaps because it filled a gap where a word was needed . There are plenty of new words in the world of teaching/education. Their habit of popping up at every staff in-service nearly drove me crazy. I'd list them here but I've made a concerned effort to forget them !!!

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    1. Me too Helen. Since we left the educational circus they have probably invented a whole new bunch of buzzwords. So pleased I don't know them.

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