Wednesday’s Word: juke

Dancing in a Memphis juke joing

What are these folks doing? They’re juking. Where do you go to juke? A juke joint. What makes them juke? The jukebox.

The word juke is a Gullah word. Gullah is a Creole like language with West African roots that was spoken in the low country of Georgia and South Carolina. While play for pay devices were invented in the late 19th century and began to become popular in the late 1920’s after new models allowed for a much wide selection of songs to be available, the name jukebox didn’t come into play until the 1930’s. Why the name? Likely because of their popularity in the juke joint.

The Gullah word juke translates to “bad, wicked, disorderly.” The term juke joint was applied to what we might today call a dive bar. Mostly they were in the South, in rural areas or at highway crossroads and were predominately frequented by African-Americans. Typically they served up music and dancing. Some also served as brothels.

juke joint
Bubba’s Juke Joint, Natchez, La.

Today the word juke has many other meanings, but mostly they involve music and motion. Later in the 20th century the juke joint became urban. Chicago was noted for its juke joints and gave rise to a new generation of juke music. 

Perhaps the second most common usage of the word juke is in the sports world, particularly in American football. A football player will use a feint or juke to deceive a defender into thinking he’s going one way when he in fact goes the other.


The top-rated definition in the Urban Dictionary offers some alternatives:

  • To defeat an opponent by using subtlety, cleverness, or a trickery. To force an opponent between choosing between two negative options (both of which benefit you). 
  • To steal from someone else. 
  • To dance while grinding one’s ass against another dancer’s pelvis. This slang is common in Chicago. 
  • To stab another person. This slang is common in South London.

For more regional slang:

Gang slang used by the Jamaican Posse that means to rob or hold up or rip someone off.

And, oddest of all, the author claims this to be common slang in Northeastern Pennsylvania: 

“a lower-class white person who has indoor furniture (typically a recliner) on their front porch that they commonly use for ~12 hours a day to oversee the neighborhood happenings. They are usually old, with poor hygiene, smoking cheap cigarettes, drinking cheap beer and/or bottom shelf liquor.”

A number of products have adopted the juke name. Nissan offers a small SUV called the juke. Juke Magazine was an Austalian music industry newsletter published in the 1970’s and 80’s. There’s also a rock band from Australia that goes by the name of Juke Kartel.

Let’s get back to the music:

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1 Response to Wednesday’s Word: juke

  1. Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes.

    Liked by 1 person

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