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Critical information about the word “jagoff”:

Last night, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, a suburban Pittsburgh native, used the word “jagoff” at a rally for Clinton in Pittsburgh when referring to the character of Donald J. Trump.

National reporters were instantly mystified and intrigued by the use and meaning of the word. Some surmised that the meaning was nasty.

That’s something that anyone from Youngstown, Ohio, all points west from Erie, down to Fayette County and as far west as Adams County, Pennsylvania would find amusing.

For them the word “jagoff” is learned at birth.

The first thing you need to know is that it is not a “naughty” word (like saying like jack off). Two completely different words.

“Jagoff” is part of the Scots Irish dialect that has been here since the 17th century that initially meant to “jag” or poke at someone who is doing something annoying (i.e. “stop jagging me” a phrase still used today). It evolved from a verb into the noun, “jagoff,” which essentially means “jerk” (i.e. “did you see the way she cut her off in traffic? What a jagoff!”).

Cuban is not the first person to use the word in this presidential election year. Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, the imposing 6 ft 4, 200-plus pound Democratic primary candidate for U.S. Senate, called Trump a jagoff last spring when he was seeking his party’s nomination for the Senate.

He held a rally centered around it, his volunteers wore “Trump is a jag off” T-shirts, and even held a press conference.

With respect to Cuban’s claim, LGM’s crack fact-checking team rates it “objectively and indisputably true far beyond any reasonable doubt.”

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  • Rudolph Schnaubelt

    Jagoff was a serious insult when I was growing up in Chicago. Fighting words for sure.

    • John Revolta

      Ditto. Although, “jaggin’ off” could mean “masturbating” or less offensively “farting around, wasting time, doing something stupid”.

    • Jack Canuck

      Exactly what I came here to say. Western suburbs of Chicago in the 80s, it was a regularly used insult. It never even occurred to me that it was a regional thing, though of course most terms like that are.

  • Snarki, child of Loki

    The other scots-irish term for Trump is “ferret-headed shitgibbon”, but it’s really hard to find in 17th century literature.

    • Dagmar

      Is that related to the Irish “gob-shite”?

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        Etymologically, no, although they obviously refer to the exact same person.

    • Tyto

      That tweet was priceless.

  • Hells Littlest Angel

    So it’s actually NOT redundant to say, “that jagoff Trump is a jerkoff.” Duly noted.

  • I’d like to see the evidence for that etymology. (There may well be a Scots word “jag”, but that shows nothing without some evidence for the claimed ‘evolution’.)

    One place that doesn’t have any such evidence, but is otherwise a small delight, is the entry at DARE.

    • Wikipedia cites this: Barbara Johnstone, Speaking Pittsburghese: The Story of a Dialect. Oxford University Press, 2013.

  • Jeff Ryan

    Is most definitely used in Chicago, and no, I’ve never heard it said that it’s benign.

    Anyone who followed NYPD Blue probably heard Detective Andy Sipowicz use it. Sipowicz was played by Dennis Franz, a Chicago actor, and he brought it along with him to the show. Which was amusing, because it is in no way a New York expression.

    I never heard anyone claim that it was a Pennsylvania expression. It might be, but it is most definitely a Chicago one.

    • For what it’s worth, I never heard it in Cleveland (in the 1950s and 1960s), nor when visiting the Pittsburgh area (that I noticed, anyway; but those visits were to grandparents who probably wouldn’t have used the word around me even if they knew it).

      • Craigo

        I grew up in the Pittsburgh area, and the adults I knew were never shy abut using it front if – or at – kids.

        • gmack

          At this year’s Pittsburgh marathon, there were loads of signs (and t-shirts) saying, “Yinz run like jagoffs.” In that particular context, it was meant affectionately.

      • rm

        I grew up in Cleveland, and it’s a very familiar word from my childhood. It was equivalent to “jerk” — mild insults that were not “dirty” words even if we assumed in our folk etymology that both of them meant the same thing as “wanker.”

  • MAJeff

    I’ve been told I’m now a Pittsburgher for my appropriate use of jagoff. And, yeah, I think I was referring to Trump.

  • efgoldman

    I guess “fucking ignorant asshole” is a bridge too far.

    • Ken

      Right up to the moment Trump uses it in a speech. Then the press will fawn over his daring rhetorical flourishes and it will be normalized.

  • M31

    While a jagoff may be etymologically different from a wanker, they both apply to Trump.

    • DocAmazing

      Ouanquer, s’il vous plait!

      • Captain_Subtext

        Can I just say, I love this blog. Never have I seen the same level of linguistic humor. My father specialized in etymology and philology and would have loved this.

    • JustRuss

      Thanks for clarifying. I, for one, was wondering about that.

  • Johnny sycophant

    I heard it 25-30 years ago in western NY… It basically was somewhere between jerk and asshole… I had assumed it had evolved from jerk-off.

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      There are clearly many gradations along the “axis of asshole”.

      I think that Trump qualifies for the term “asshole’s asshole”, which is about as close as you can get to the maximum, without the use of transcendental numbers.

      • leftwingfox

        I just had the strangest mental image of Trump rotating around the Asshole axis like a shawarma.

    • DAS

      I’m not from nor have I ever even lived in Pittsburgh or any area thereabouts, so my undersight be incorrect. But … isn’t an asshole the kind of person who drives too fast, cuts people off and honks at people who stop for pedestrians; whereas a jagoff is the person who insists on driving at 20 mph on a freeway the second a few flakes of snow start falling yet thinks nothing of making a right turn from the left lane, cutting across two lanes of traffic or parking in such a way as to take up two parking spots?

      An asshole is a person who pushes you out of the way to cut in front of you in line while a jagoff bumps into you while your standing in line, because he’s trying to grab a candy bar that he could have waited to grab when he got into line, and then yells at you for not apologizing to him?

      An asshole passes gas and loudly says “smells good, don’t it? he he” while a jagoff passes gas (and it’s obviously him) and loudly says “alright … who farted?” IOW, GW Bush was an asshole; Trump is a jagoff.

      Do I have the correct distinction?

      • Humpty-Dumpty

        This is reminiscent (though not the same) as the schlemiel/schlemazel distinction in Yiddish. As elucidated by Harlan Ellison, a schlemiel is the guy who goes through life spilling the soup at a formal dinner. The schlemazel is the guy the soup spills onto.

  • Chuchundra

    OT, but the biggest Bernie Booster on my FB feed just changed her profile picture to one of HRC with “I’m With Her” underneath.

    • John Revolta

      Which brings up the question: can a woman be a jagoff? My friends in Chicago never used it that way. Well, a woman could jag a guy off, but I’m still not sure that that would make her a jagoff. Ain’t it?

      • John Revolta

        P.S. No, I didn’t mean that Hillary was a jagoff. Ya dickweed.

        • John Revolta

          Although we went to the same high school, so I’m pretty sure she’s familiar with the phraseology.

      • MikeJake

        To me, the most infuriating lyric in music was from Back That Ass Up by Juvenile.

        <blockquoteGirl, you looks good, won't you back that azz up
        You'se a fine motherfucker, won't you back that azz up

        Calling women “motherfuckers” is a bridge too far for me.

        • MikeJake

          Fucking paste and fucking blockquote and fucking autocorrect.

        • ASV

          Calling women “motherfuckers” is a bridge too far for me.

          With one more Supreme Court justice we’ll cross that bridge.

  • Solar System Wolf

    I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and it was used there. My grandfather grew up in the Ohio River Valley and spoke Pittsburgh dialect. I’m sure he knew the word, but he would not have used it around me.

  • russiannavyblog

    Robert DeNiro’s character in Casino called someone a jagoff, and I’m almost certain I’ve heard it in other Scorsese movies, I’m pretty sure Scorsese has never been to Pittsburgh in his life

    • GlennS

      It was actually used by one of the hit men when they killed the “John Nance” character in Costa Rica

    • georgekaplan

      Was it DeNiro’s character? I remember Nicky Santoro, Joe Pesci’s character, calling one of the dealers a jagoff in the scene where he’s losing horribly at blackjack and demanding $50,000 from the house. I don’t know if it’s clear in the film where Santoro is from but the real-life gangster on whom he’s based was from Chicago.

  • Loofah

    Seems pretty clear that “jagoff” is a slight modification of “jackoff” and I’m sure those journalists know all about that.

    “Jagoff” is no mystery to most of us boomers since Dennis Miller used to use it all the time before he retired (or died or whatever it is he did).

  • efgoldman

    Well, well, well. It appears we are at a tipping point with the Village. NBC just did a generic on-the-road piece about HRC, then ran a litany of Combover Caligula’s verbal diarrhea, in a very clearly disapproving and “can you believe this” way.
    Polls next week ought to be really interesting.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      y’know, “Combover Caligula” is one of the better nicknames people have hung on that jackass- it just kinda sums him up

  • “LGM’s crack fact-checking team …” As opposed to the fact-checkers at lesser blogs who rely on horse, coke, weed, ‘ludes and speed?

    • Weed, whites & wine at the lesser blogs, I think.

      • Harry Hardrada

        The poor fact-checkers at some blogs have to subsist on vodka and ketchup.

        • Jackov

          Add a dash of weltschmerz then shake bitterly
          and you have a Bloody Erik.

          • Julia Grey

            +1

      • Willin’ to be checkin’.

    • Nothing but organic locally-sourced panegoric and meth from mom-&-dad bakers at Riddled!

    • Are those other blogs hiring fact checkers?

  • Woodrowfan

    never heard in growing up in SW Ohio, but we got more southern slang (esp those form the upper-middle south, KY and TN) than we did sayings from the north and east.

  • Trump’s a “cracker” too.

    An alternate theory traces this term from the Middle English cnac, craic, or crak, which originally meant the sound of a cracking whip but came to refer to “loud conversation, bragging talk”. In Elizabethan times this could refer to “entertaining conversation” (one may be said to “crack” a joke) and cracker could be used to describe loud braggarts; this term and the Gaelic spelling craic are still in use in Ireland, Scotland and Northern England. It is documented in Shakespeare’s King John (1595): “What cracker is this same that deafs our ears with this abundance of superfluous breath?” This usage is illustrated in a letter to the Earl of Dartmouth which reads:

    “I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by Crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascalls on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia, who often change their places of abode.”

    The compound corn-cracker was used of poor white farmers (by 1808), especially of Georgians, but also extended to residents of northern Florida, from the cracked kernels of corn which formed the staple food of this class of people. This possibility is cited in the 1911 edition of Encyclopædia Britannica, but the Oxford English Dictionary (“cracker”, definition 4) says a derivation of the 18th-century simplex cracker from the 19th-century compound corn-cracker is doubtful.

    • Stag Party Palin

      Shakespeare’s King John (1595): “What cracker is this same that deafs our ears with this abundance of superfluous breath?”

      A Brazilian (that’s a really big number) thanks for this. I just love classical invective. One of my favorite movies is the original ‘Angels in The Outfield’ where Paul Douglas is forced to use Shakespearian insults to curb his profanity.

      • Dagmar

        Brilliant!

    • Jeff Ryan

      Don’t forget “Is this a jagoff I see before me?”

  • Just_Dropping_By

    Interesting. I’ve always thought it was a semi-cleaned-up/safe-for-television version of “jerk-off.”

    • Ken

      Same frickin’ thing here.

      • Woodrowfan

        frelling A!

        • lizzie

          Shut the front door!

          • Jeff Ryan

            Yeah, when did that lameass expression gain currency? I have always hated that one.

            • tsam

              As a substitute for shut the fuck up. It’s used because it makes reference to the other..

            • cleek

              i think i first heard it from Tina Fey on 30 Rock.

  • The hotel van was taking us to a hotel in downtown Pittsburgh for a layover.

    Some car was blocking the entrance to the hotel. The van driver rolled down his window and started yelling “Move it you f*cking jagoff!”

    I said: “NOW I know I’m in Pittsburgh!”

  • Gary K

    Mr. Cuban, I can state unequivocally, has offered the most convincing etymology ever.

  • Thank God (and the Blessed Virgin) for clarifying that, through the agency of our heroic journalists. Otherwise people might think that there were people in Flyover Country practicing that dreadful and lethal vice to which the Coastal expression “J*ck *ff” refers. Believe me, nobody would ever do such a thing in Pittsburgh.

    In other lexicological news, the expression “fug you” in use from Buffalo to Chicago is in no way connected to disgusting references to marital intercourse.

  • SqueakyRat

    I’m not a native Pittsburgher but I lived there for a good many years, so of course I heard “jagoff” regularly. I always took it for granted it was just Western Pennsylvanian for “jackoff.” Sort of the way they call their main supermarket chain the Jyne Iggle.

  • royko

    In the vernacular of my Chicago upbringing, Trump could be described as a:
    A-hole
    Jagoff
    Jerkwad
    Jerkface
    Fargin’ icehole

  • MikeBoyScout

    As a born & raised Burgher, I can attest to the entomology of jagoff given here.

    It does not mean jerkoff.

    Trump is far worse than any GD jagoff I’ve ever come across. Cuban was being kind… in a yinzer way.

  • twbb

    “Cuban is not the first person to use the word in this presidential election year. Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, the imposing 6 ft 4, 200-plus pound Democratic primary candidate for U.S. Senate, called Trump a jagoff last spring when he was seeking his party’s nomination for the Senate.”

    Fetterman is actually like 6’8″ and 300+ lbs. I mean 6’4″ 200+ is barely on the “imposing” side of the continuum.

  • jroth95

    The doubt expressed above is… really really odd. Why would anyone question that yinzers use unique-to-them terminology? It’s a weird little regional accent.

    Furthermore, “jag” is attested in other uses that clearly have nothing to do with jerking or jacking, such as jagger bush (anything with thorns) or the Jaggerz, formed circa 1964.

    It’s likely that adding ‘off’ to ‘jag’ has to do with jerk-off as a noun, but it’s not just an accented version of the latter. Jag as a standalone term is gentler than jerk, an annoying person rather than a bad person.

    • Liz Lemon on 30 Rock says “jag” (and “jagweed” and once “jagwagon”) a lot. I don’t think “jagoff” appears on the show at all.

      Tina Fey is from PA (as is Liz Lemon). So it checks out.

    • My doubt (if that is the doubt you’re referring to) was about the proposed etymology from “Scots Irish dialect”. Of course I don’t have any doubt that Pittsburghers have their own regional dialect (as might have been deduced from my link to the Dictionary of American Regional English) with characteristic lexical items like “jagoff”. As to their “weird little regional accent”, I probably still have traces of it in my own accent; certainly I had some (most notable, “iggle” for “eagle”) when I was young, learned from my mother, born, raised, and schooled in California PA.

  • Epicurus

    Huh, and I always took it for a corruption of “jack-off.” The moar you know…

  • Roger Ailes

    Donald Trump regularly romances Rosie Palmer and her five very tiny sisters.

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