Page 1 of 1


Posted: Wed Dec 15, 2004 9:54 pm
by Archived Topic
It's curious how many words in common use come from a language few have heard of - Gullah. The language or perhaps dialect of West African slaves on the sea islands of South Carolina and Georgia.
Voodoo, juke[-box], goober, cooter, jumbo, etc.

OED obstinately declines to accept this derivation of 'jumbo', instead having us believe it may be from 'mumbo-jumbo', and the elephant so named in the London Zoo.The Gallah word for elephant is 'jamba'. Gallah was a fusion of several African languages, but I don't think there is any connection with the Swahili 'jambo' (pronounced 'jahm-bo'), meaning 'good morning'.

In the early 1950's I was serving in the British army in North Africa with (among others) Mauritians, who spoke Swahili, a rather degraded French, and a little English. The current advertising jingle for Gilette razor blades was 'Good mornings begin with Gilette', which we varied to 'jumbos begin with Gilette' from constantly hearing the greeting 'jambo''jambo'exchanged.
Submitted by John Barton (New Plymouth - New Zealand)


Posted: Wed Dec 15, 2004 10:07 pm
by Archived Reply
John, your jahm-bo triggered sompat in my past. When I was stationed in "K-town" near the Alsace-Lorraine, I was introduced to a common 'fast-breaker-bythehand' from that area, called a 'jahm-bone'. It was a small bread roll/loaf with a greazy "ham&egg scramble" stuffing and I loved it. I was only there a short time, and never ran into it again, by name or substance, while in europe. Mayhaps it was just a coincidence of sounds, but I want to ask if you or some else could tell me if it might have been a play on words with your "good morning"??


Reply from ( - )


Posted: Wed Dec 15, 2004 10:21 pm
by Archived Reply
John, the Swahili word for an elephant is 'tembo,' so there may be a connection between jamba / jumbo and Swahili.

Louis, the French word for ham is 'jambon.' Your spelling is a bit questionable for a presumably French word, but I think a Swahili origin is a bit far-fetched.
Reply from Hans Joerg Rothenberger (Walenstadt - Switzerland)


Posted: Wed Dec 15, 2004 10:34 pm
by Archived Reply
Well, (innominate), personally I'm what used to be called a 'Pythagorean' (and now vegetarian); but I think it was just the French 'jambon' (pron. 'jahmbon'), ham. My Swahili is almost non-existent, but I do know that 'Kilima' means hill. So when we speak of 'mount Kilimanjaro' we are saying 'mount mount njaro' - as happens with many other foreign placenames. 'Jambo' may be just 'hello'; 'how are you' is 'habare'. It's been a long time!
Reply from John Barton (New Plymouth - New Zealand)


Posted: Wed Dec 15, 2004 10:47 pm
by Archived Reply
The above popped up just as I was sending this!
Reply from John Barton (New Plymouth - New Zealand)


Posted: Wed Dec 15, 2004 11:01 pm
by Archived Reply
YES, Thankyou both

Reply from Louis Bussey (Boise - U.S.A.)


Posted: Wed Dec 15, 2004 11:14 pm
by Archived Reply
Hello John.
This is all a bit confusing, as the thread bounces from Jumbo to breakfast to bread rolls and ham, via Gullah, French, and Swahili. If you don't mind me saying so (and it's something that Ken G has been on a (breakfast?) roll about several times before)your title in the area for queries about word origins is "Jumbo". Perhaps it should have been "Gullah influences?" or something similar, as you aren't really asking anything about "jumbo" per se.
Having said that, it seems that the origin of jumbo was a corruption of the Zulu "jumba" (large object or parcel) which was what his keeper initially named the young elephant on arrival at the London Zoo in 1865.
Greasy rolls, morning greetings, ham and hello (in sundry languages) might sound similar to jumbo, but I fell are not...erm...waht's the expression...ah..."connected"?
above info via
Reply from Robert Masters (Asia - Thailand)


Posted: Wed Dec 15, 2004 11:27 pm
by Archived Reply
John, I know for sure that there is no Arabic connection in your above exampple.For your interest, the word Swahili is an Arabic word meaning Shores/Coasts. The Swhahili( also refered to as Kiswahili) is spoken by many Africans. Apart from French,the language is also influenced by other languages,such as Portogese,Italian,Arabic,Turkish,Persian and Greek. At times I was able to distinguish certain words spoken by some of my friends from Eastern Africa,Eritrea,Somalia and Ethopia.Some also speak Arabic fluently.
14th of December,2004
Reply from Ahmed ELNamer (Dawson Creek - Canada)


Posted: Wed Dec 15, 2004 11:41 pm
by Archived Reply
Thanks all. So it appears this very common word has five separate etymologies, each maintained as the sole mentioned and only correct one by prestigious authorities:
1. Gullah 'jamba' elephant (dict. of Americanisms)
2. Swahili 'tembo' elephant
3. Zulu 'jumba' a large object
4. ? from Mumbo Jumbo, name for a W.African divinity or bogey (OED)dating from 1823
5. From the arbitrary name given to a large elephant in the London Zoo and later applied to anything large.
Once again thge OED comes out rather feebly as far from the all-comprehensive compilation generally supposed.(Among many obvious ommissions being 'queuing', which is not in at least my Shorter Oxford; though 'queue' was around in at least 1592).
Reply from John Barton (New Plymouth - New Zealand)


Posted: Sun Jan 02, 2005 9:03 pm
by Ken Greenwald
John, Michael Quinion always does a great job of sorting things out and is, from my experience, a source to be trusted.

World Wide Words by Michael Quinion

JUMBO: Many people, especially here in Britain, would immediately think of the famous African elephant of that name at London Zoo.

Jumbo arrived from Paris on 26 June 1865 and he remained in London for years, giving rides to thousands of children and becoming a great favourite with the public. When fully grown he was the largest elephant known at the time, standing 12 feet tall and weighing over six tons. However, the Zoo became worried that Jumbo was getting very cantankerous and difficult (bull elephants are notoriously hard to keep captive) and that he would become a danger to his keeper and to the public. The Zoo sold him to Barnum and Bailey’s Circus in 1882 (he was sadly to be killed by a train in Ontario three years later).

The sale aroused huge passion and indignation, including a protest from Queen Victoria. You can judge his popularity from a comment in Mark Twain’s Following the Equator about Barnum’s intending purchase of him: “Jamrach said it was no use to think about it; that Jumbo was as popular as the Prince of Wales and the Zoo wouldn’t dare to sell him; all England would be outraged at the idea; Jumbo was an English institution; he was part of the national glory; one might as well think of buying the Nelson monument”.

Jumbo the giant elephant certainly popularised the name as an epithet for something of large size and you can find many examples recorded from the 1880s onwards. His influence was greatest in North America, where Jumbo became a great attraction during his short residence (Thomas Alva Edison, always the publicity hound ready to jump on a popular bandwagon, named one of his new electric dynamos “Jumbo” in 1884). The word has been around ever since, especially in North America, as a neat way to describe anything large of its type, and led to compounds like jumboburger, jumbo-sized, and jumbo pack. Walt Disney clearly had him in mind when he named his cartoon elephant Dumbo. However, the introduction of the jumbo jet in the 1960s helped to move the word into international English and to popularise it more widely.

Jumbo the elephant, though, is often said not to be the origin of jumbo the word, because it has been found in an 1823 work about racing in reference to a big clumsy person. However, this appears just once, with no further examples turning up until after Jumbo had become famous. It is possible that the older word was not in fact the source (though we have to remember that slang terms were often very badly recorded at this period). It’s also suggested that Jumbo got his name from mumbo-jumbo, a word for a West African deity (inappropriate, as it happens, because Jumbo had been captured on the other side of the continent). Oddly, though neatly, mumbo-jumbo is also thought to be the origin of the earlier slang jumbo.

The most plausible suggestion is that given in W P Jolly’s book of 1976 about Jumbo. He says that his keeper at London Zoo gave him that name—soon after he arrived—from the Zulu jumba, a large packet or parcel (which he certainly was: even as a rather sick four-year-old, Jumbo was five feet high and weighed about half a ton).