Friday, May 14, 2010

banjaxed

Admittedly, I've probably only come across this word once or twice, likely in my reading of fiction from the Greater British Isles. But this is actually in the way of a guest suggestion from the last post, in which Adrian McKinty mentioned the following scenario in the comments: a Scottish reporter riding a train with the then campaigning Nick Clegg described him as being "banjaxed" and the BBC anchor had no idea what she was talking about.

Well, I like to help out these anchors when I can. I didn't see the show, but I hope the anchor took a moment out as the Nation's Washington editor Chris Hayes did when he was guest hosting the Rachel Maddow show a few days ago. He said he would like to make a confession (it's catching on, people!): he had until then spent his life thinking 'firmament' meant 'foundation'. Yeah, look it up if you have no clue what it does mean--I'm not the only one who can use online dictionaries. I'll just say that it would be an easy mistake to make, as you would guess it would mean something like 'on a firm footing', when in fact nothing could be further from the case.

Anyway, back to 'banjaxed'. This is one of those words which context would usually make clear enough, and I'm sure I've thought I knew it well enough on a couple of occasions. Unfortunately, in this case, it's none too easy. My initial reaction was to think it meant something equivalent to the American slang 'hogtied' or perhaps 'poleaxed'. But in the context it could mean he was elated, baffled, or even drunk. Well, probably not drunk, as then there would have been hell to pay for the poor reporter. In any case, at the behest of Philip Robinson, I will now attempt to sort out the truth.

...Sorted? Perhaps not. According to the Urban Dictionary, banjaxed could mean broken, ruined, wrecked, tired, worn out or, well, yes--drunk. So what was this Scottish reporter really trying to tell us about the soon to be Deputy Prime Minister? Was this bit of Irish slang a code word? I will leave you to draw your own conclusions on that one.

It does interest me that when it comes to etymology, most sources say it's unknown in this case. But over at technofocus.net, one poster has an interesting comment. He--I think it's a he--says that it actually comes from the Urdu term "bahnn gahecked", which comes from a kind of cooking pottery that was large enough that it often developed cracks at the base in the heat. All too frequently, unfortunately, this resulted in the pot's hot contents being spilled on the woman lifting it when the base broke away. By extension 'bahnn gehecked' came to mean any item that was faulty or unsafe. Or, I'll add, wrecked.



Now this sounds a bit contrived, but as the poster goes on to say, many of these far away words came home with British and Irish soldiers. Having learned in an earlier post that our oh so American dungarees also find their origins in India, for something like the same reason, I don't think distance is such a huge factor as I once might have.

28 comments:

  1. really? this comes from India? I have to say that this is a surprise. You're right of course, it shouldnt be a surprise considering how many Urdu works have now become part of the lexicon...

    I think Kirsty Wark was suggesting that Nick was utterly exhausted, although it would funny if he she had caught him rolling around drunk as a skunk.

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  2. I love the suggested Indian etymology! Although - like I'm sure Adrian too - I used this expression all the time when a lad, I didn't know it was 'Anglo-Irish'. My 2 Ulster dialect dictionaries have it as:

    banjaxed: occas. (esp. of an engine, implement, etc.) smashed; irreparably damaged.
    banjaxed: worn out, broken down. [Hiberno-English, origin unknown; also adopted recently in English slang]

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  3. Way to get right back with the comments, guys!

    Well, I didn't get it from the OED, so it could be wrong me to it, but it does make sense. And I'm sure it would give all those Indian women who have been scalded with hot water some comfort to know that their experience has been "repurposed" by hungover Irish youth to describe their experience of the night before.

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  4. Urdu? Could never have guessed! But then again, I know Bengali, Hindi and a smattering of Marathi out of the dozens of Indian languages!
    I was thinking banjo....

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  5. Well, Sucharita, you are probably much more likely to come across an Urdu speaker than I am, so if you think of it run that bahnn gahecked term by them, and see if it sounds remotely plausible.

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  6. Our Washington guy, who confused "firmament" and "fundament," no doubt thought that his confession would earn him respect. I'm not sure he deserves this. Nor am I sure that such a confession belongs on a news show. His confession is just one more example of private matters being made into self-indulgent public self- absolution. But then, I am of the old school that believes news is news and entertainment is entertainment.

    I'd associated banjaxed with Irish crime writing, where I'd associated with wrecked plans or car engines: "ruined." If the word is indeed of Indian origin, I wonder how and when it made its way to the British Isles. During the colonial era? Through gypsies/Rom?
    ==========================
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  7. Returning soldiers of the Raj is I think what the thought is.

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  8. The military connection reminds me of banjaxed's American cousin: fubar.
    ==========================
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  9. Banjaxed sort of sounds like it should have the salty origins of a fubar, but I don't think it does. The interesting thing about this word for me is that it sounds like a made up word, but likely isn't and reminds me again that most words come from somewhere, they aren't just random collections of interesting sounds.

    I missed the context, but I think our Nation correspondent may have been clarifying an early mistake and not just seeking to entertain. I think we part ways on what's appropriate in a news anchor, though. They all have to play some kind of role, after all. Walter Cronkite was just playing everybody's father. I don't really care how they present themselves if they are smart and hard working and get the facts right.

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  10. I like banjaxed so much that I used it one installment of my dormant hijacking of John McFetridge’s absolutely fictional road-trip story.

    Sucharita, if you visit my blog, you can read my post about विमल.

    Interesting you should mention Walte Cronkite playing a role. I am prone to decry the blurring of the line between news and entertainment on television and to act on my conviciton by not watching. But I watched old clips of Cronkite after he died, and producers loved those tight shots of him furrowing his brow in apparent concern. Man, I didn't know whether I was watching Walter Cronkite or Walter Berennan. So you're right. TV news has always been a show.
    ================
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  11. It almost has to be a show, doesn't it? It's the nature of the beast. My sister did a communications degree and she explained to me once how much news footage is actually unnecessary--you kind of have to show some sort of image when you're reporting something on television, even if it's a beat me over the head with it, why don't you kind of thing.

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  12. I suppose you're right. One of the formative moments in my attitude toward television news came when I covered a hearing at Boston City Council. One the key witnesses was a guy named Mel King, an activist and politician who later ran for mayor.

    As he left council chambers, a TV reporter asked him to go back in and come out again so her camerman could get a better shot. The resulting shot, of course, would have been presented that night as if it depicted Mel King leaving the chambers after his testimony which, of course, it did not. It was a lie, in other words. A small lie and perhaps a lie that had no direct effect, but a lie nonetheless.

    It may be significant that Mel King was a big, strapping guy who wore a dashiki. He made good television, in other words, which presumably justified the lie.
    ================
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  13. Speaking of lies, one of my current media obsessions is to think of advertising as lying, pure and simple. Of course, not all of it is, but a great deal of it has such a slim tethering to reality that it does amount to prevarication. So my question is, as we've had so much time to assimilate this knowledge, why do continue to treat it as truth? Why do we listen to any of it as if it had anything objective to say to us? Admittedly, I don't mind much if they're willing to fund the shows I like to watch but if anyone thinks they are going to sell me a car, say, based on one of them, they are out of their banjaxed minds.

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  14. Perhaps it strays from lies into the realm of bullshit, as articulated by Harry G. Frankfurt.

    Perhaps knowledge that a lie is a lie makes it easier for people to accept, in a perverse sort of reasoning I can't quite understand. You know, "It doesn't matter if he, she or it lies because no one expects them to tell the truth anyway."

    This argument neatly elides the question of what harm the lie does and whether the liar is bound, morally or otherwise, to stop lying.
    ================
     Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
     http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  15. I suppose a lot of it isn't technically lying. It merely suggests that your life will be enhanced if you possess whatever is being advertised. And who knows? Maybe it would. The problem is that though you can buy the car, you can't buy the zany friends that go along with you on another crazy adventure in it.

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  16. You might like Frankfurt's little book. Here's a trenchant excerpt:

    "The bullshitter ... does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are."
    ================
     Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
     http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  17. I have glanced through the book, actually. It was big here when it first came out. But it might be time to refresh my memory.

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  18. I'm not surprised a book like that would be popular in your part of the country, though I think Frankfurt is from mine.

    You don't need to glance through the book; you can read the whole thing in a short time.

    A reviewer in my paper cast doubt on the philosophical validity of some of Frankfurt's arguments, but some of what he says sure seems relevant and practical to me.
    ================
     Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
     http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  19. It appears that quite a few slang words came back from India with the returning Irish soldiers in the British army - the most well-known one being 'gutties' for white canvas shoes. 'Bungalow' of course is universal.
    The thing about 'banjaxed' is that has no pre-1850 references over here (in Ireland), no pre-1950 usage in England, and wasn't taken to America by the Scotch-Irish or the Irish-Irish. Yet it is rock solid in the local dialect here from at least the 1920s.

    Linguistically, it didn't come from Irish Gaelic or Lowland Scots like 90% of our older dialect words. So India looks good to me!

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  20. I realized I should just post the link to the discussion I got this from, so here it is. There are certainly skeptics among them.

    If it is indeed a borrowed word, it still is quite fascinating that the Irish appropriated it in a way that the English did not. It's such a good word, and you do have to think that there was a cultural fit somehow. Although there may be a disproportionate use of it in Santa Cruz from now on...

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    1. Thought you might enjoy this little bit of serendipity...was reading an item on Reddit just now (http://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/2emn32/i_fucking_knew_it_behold_sock_narnia/) and the top comment included the word "banjanxed" (sic)...this led to a Google search, which led to "Bahnn Gehecked", which led me to your blog...and I live in Santa Cruz! You now have an ally in your campaign to spread the "good word"...;-)

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    2. Thanks for that, Caelum. All roads do lead to Santa Cruz eventually, I think. I am reminded that I haven't used banjaxed nearly enough since posting this.

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  21. Banjaxed - aka 'scundered'. McKinty will have more on the etymology of 'scundered', I'm sure - although I think that that has its roots in a dry Pimms too many.

    'Gutties' - I've heard that used as shorthand for lowlives - always presumed it was shorthand for 'guttersnipes'. But maybe it's because of their predilection for white footwear ...

    Cheers, Dec

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  22. Yea, 'scundered' is one of those words we use at home every day, - it means 'sickened' rather than banjaxed which means wrecked. But scunnered has a good lineage, and was taken to America by the (Scotch) Irish. Steinbeck uses it as 'skundered' in East of Eden.
    Adrian also may know that the word 'geek' has had a similar journey with a few twists of meaning along the way.
    Thanks for the link on the etymology discussion Seana. I was tempted to join in, but as I'm living most of my life chasing wild geese I can't afford to fly off in any more directions. But I wouldn't rule it out!

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  23. Thanks, you guys. Steinbeck may have used scundered, but it certainly isn't common around Central California today. The carnie version of geek, though, I do know. In fact there is a pretty wild novel called Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn which let's just say is not about the romances of Silicon Valley. It's had a lot of fans around here through the years.

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  24. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  25. Since the toilet is the "jax" at least in Ireland, not the "john", I assumed it would be about that.....odd that does not come up in the discussion at all.

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  26. Well, now it has, Chrystal. Thank you. I think the association to the jax could at least be an overlay here, even if the Urdu origins are correct.

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