Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Jagoffs Gain New Status but Little to Boast about Pittsburghese Added to Oxford Dictionary

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Jagoffs Gain New Status but Little to Boast about Pittsburghese Added to Oxford Dictionary

Article excerpt

It is a day undoubtedly long awaited by Western Pennsylvania's untold number of largely anonymous jagoffs - recognition by one of the world's great authorities on language.

The Oxford English Dictionary has added "jagoff" to the hundreds of thousands of words it has been defining since the 19th century as legitimate use of the English language. It was one of more than 1,000 entries added this month by the dictionary, which updates its listings quarterly.

It defines the term in multiple ways online. In one dictionary section, it refers to jagoff as U.S. dialect "(chiefly in western Pennsylvania) a stupid, irritating, or contemptible person." Elsewhere, it lists additional slang meanings, including "a person who steals items of little value" (evidently an archaic British usage).

We Pittsburghers who feel victimized by careless motorists, inept sports officials, rude line-jumpers and other scoundrels typically like the "contemptible" meaning best. You're probably not a real yinzer, however, if you haven't also joshingly addressed a friend as a "jagoff" when out for drinks or arguing about the Steelers.

Carnegie Mellon University linguistics professor Barbara Johnstone, an authority on Pittsburghese dialect, sees jagoff's Oxford appearance as a milestone, even though she disagrees with some of Oxford's interpretations of the word. She sees it as having Scots-Irish origins related to the poking or pricking done by a "jagger bush" - a sharp irritant, in other words.

Nonetheless, "I think it helps people to know that a small regional dialect like Pittsburghese is really legitimate - that it's not just a joke, that it has a history, that it's a valuable part of our heritage," she said. "The Oxford English Dictionary is the best respected historical dictionary of the English language."

That British-based dictionary's status is notable in that a group of Pittsburghers mounted an unsuccessful petition drive two years ago to win jagoff's acceptance in the more American Merriam-Webster's Dictionary. …

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