NYT Mini for Friday, January 22, 2016

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Medium

Theme: None

Word of the Day: JAZZ

As with many words that began in slang, there is no definitive etymology for jazz. However, the similarity in meaning of the earliest jazz citations to jasm, a now-obsolete slang term meaning spirit, energy, vigor and dated to 1860 in the Historical Dictionary of American Slang, suggests that jasm should be considered the leading candidate for the source of jazz. A link between the two words is particularly supported by the Daily Californian's February 18, 1916, article, which used the spelling jaz-m, although the context and other articles in the same newspaper from this period show that jazz was intended.

Jasm is thought to derive from or be a variant of slang jism or gism, which the Historical Dictionary of American Slang dates to 1842 and defines as "spirit; energy; spunk." Jism also means semen or sperm, the meaning that predominates today, causing jism to be considered a taboo word. Deepening the nexus among these words is the fact that "spunk" is also a slang term for semen, and that "spunk", like jism/jasm, also means spirit, energy, or courage (for example: "She showed a lot of spunk.") In the 19th and early 20th centuries, however, jism could still be used in polite contexts. Jism, or its variant jizz (which, however, is not attested in the Historical Dictionary of American Slang until 1941), has also been suggested as a direct source for jazz. A direct derivation from jism is phonologically unlikely; jasm itself would be, according to this assumption, the intermediary form. (Wikipedia)

You guys ever play Jazz/Not Jazz? It's a great game. Here's how it works: You say a word or phrase of your choosing, and then you say "Jazz/Not Jazz?" At this point each other player in the game responds by saying either "Jazz" or "Not Jazz", one at a time in gradual succession. There is no discussion. After everyone has provided their considered response, you end the round by repeating your original phrase, followed by either "Jazz" or "Not Jazz", at which point it is now the next player's turn to state their own word or phrase, along with the question, "Jazz/Not Jazz?" Play resumes in this fashion until the game is done. There is no scoring and, again, no discussion.

JAZZ sure does have a lot of embarrassing etymology behind it [1A: Wynton Marsalis's genre]! Glad that isn't my chosen genre of study; that'd be pretty embarrassing!

I just noticed that TABOO is actually right there in the Wikipedia article [5A: Party game with words you're not allowed to say]; that's kinda neat. Hey, maybe it's a theme, eh?! Nah, it's not a theme. But it might have been the SEED of one [8A: Watermelon eater's discard]. I thought that was gonna be RIND at first, because don't some people eat the seeds (childhood myths about intestinal watermelon tree growth notwithstanding of course)? I can confirm for a fact that watermelon seed consumption is not fatal to humans, at the very least. And I have never seen anyone eat the rind. All's I'm sayin'.

I don't know why but every time I see AMINO in a puzzle I forget what word goes there even though the clue is always almost identical [6A: ___ acid (protein builder)]. I just see 'acid' and immediately think of 'sulfuric', 'hydrochloric', etc. and forget the really obvious answer. Here we even get that (unnecessary) parenthetical lighting the way, so I've really no excuse.

So as for this puzzle, it's ok I guess. I like that cluster of O's and Z's up there in the NE. I can totally ABIDE that [2D: Tolerate]. I guess you could say it's well-ZONED [3D: Like most urban land]. But that would be a little forced, wouldn't it?

Yeah, you probably wouldn't say that thing I said you could say.

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, Scattergories of CrossWorld