Jinkies! Zoinks! Jeepers!
These words may look like nonsense, but if you’ve ever watched a certain children’s cartoon that features a talking dog and his friends solving mysteries, they’ll be very familiar.
Where do words like “jinkies” come from, though? And what do they mean?
Let’s find out.
What does “jinkies” mean?
The answer is that “jinkies” is the catch-phrase of Velma, a teenage investigator from Hanna Barbara’s Scooby-Doo franchise of cartoons and movies. It is similar in meaning to “oh my” or “wow” and can be thought of as an expression of surprise. Although the word is almost exclusively associated with Scooby-Doo today, it dates at least as far back as the 1930s.
Put simply, the word “jinkies” is an expression of surprise similar to “wow“ or “gosh.”
The expression is solidly entrenched in American popular culture due to its regular use by Velma, one of the main characters in the Scooby-Doo cartoons about a group of teenage detectives and their talking dog who travel around solving seemingly supernatural crimes.
At least once an episode, Velma will say “Jinkies!”
Since she always says it when something surprising happens, the meaning is clear from context as an expression of mild surprise.
How to use “jinkies” in a sentence
First off, it’s important to be aware that people will likely think you’re joking if you go around saying “jinkies.”
With that in mind, “jinkies” is as easy to use as any other expression of surprise. If you’re shocked by something, just say it.
Although it’s typically used alone, “jinkies” can also be attached to a sentence as an introductory phrase. In this case, add a comma after the word and put the rest of the sentence.
Perhaps the only thing that says Scooby-Doo more than “jinkies” is when the ghost is revealed to be somebody with an agenda. In this case, perhaps the perpetrator thinks the mayor isn’t paying enough.
In this sentence, “jinkies” is used as an introductory phrase and followed by a comma. “Gang” is another heavily-used word in the original show.
In this dialogue, the second speaker uses “jinkies” to show that they’re surprised by the first speaker’s statement.
The first recorded use of “jinkies”
Today, if you’re hearing someone say “jinkies” they are almost certainly referencing Scooby-Doo. It turns out this word is significantly older than Scooby and friends, however.
The word dates at least as far back as 1938, when it’s recorded in the July 29 issue of Central Michigan University’s Courier-Northerner newspaper. The issue features a letter to the staff that starts with the sentence, “By jinkies, on my next pass day I will surely stop and see that 178 foot wheelbase fire truck.”
Although the meaning seems a little different than “jinkies,” the word is clearly the same.
In fact, many of the uses before “jinkies” became Velma’s catchphrase come from a college or university setting.
This suggests that the reason Velma says the word is that people in the late 1960s and early 1970s would associate it with a college-educated, overly earnest speaker.
Since Velma’s character in the show is supposed to be extremely smart but a little nerdy, her using this word when she’s surprised would have done that handily when it first aired.
One possible origin of “jinkies”
Interestingly, early uses of the word often include the word “by” in front of “jinkies.”
As noted in the example above, “by jinkies” sometimes carries a slightly different connotation. In addition to showing surprise, it can also suggest determination.
This longer phrase also gives us a hint about one possible origin of “jinkies.”
Why? Because it’s very similar to the phrase “By Jove,” a euphemism used in place of “Jehovah,” a name for the Judeo-Christian god.
Although today you’re unlikely to raise eyebrows if you say, “Oh my god,” historically such references have been considered blasphemous and unfit for polite society.
Since “Jove” and “Jehovah” sound similar, you could get away with “By Jove” when “By Jehovah” would have shocked people.
In a similar vein are words like “gadzooks” (God’s hooks), “zounds” (God’s wounds) and “strewth” (God’s truth). Today, these words all sound cringy and old-fashioned but they were once widely used.
It seems likely, or at least possible, that “by jinkies” started out the same way in a college setting, and then entered the popular consciousness through Velma’s use of it in Scooby-Doo.
Although today the true origin is lost in the mists of time, the ongoing popularity of the cartoon means “jinkies” is likely to stick around.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.