One of the stranger items to surface so far from Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury—whose sweary account of the Trump White House I recently covered—is the curious case of jumos.
On the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a group of Russians, Wolff writes that Bannon said: “The chance that Don Jr. did not walk these Jumos up to his father’s office on the 26th floor is zero.”
Putting aside Bannon’s explosive implication that Trump himself met with the Russians, despite White House denials to the contrary, Bannon’s statement had many scratching their heads: What is a jumo? Specifically, it had Maggie Serota wondering in her January 3rd Spin article: “Did Steve Bannon Invent a New Slur?”
In a word, no. Journalists and political observers have widely concluded Wolff’s jumos was a typo or transcription error for jamoke, which our own Jonathon Green defines as slang for a “stupid or contemptible person.” (Dictionary.com trollfully speculated typos for jumbo, jus, and Junos. Others noted jumo is Spanish slang for “drunk,” especially around the Caribbean. And the Palmer Report dubiously put forth jumos as shorthand for “Junior Moscow Officers.”)
On the January 4th NPR Politics Podcast (~7:52), national political correspondent Mara Liasson said she “talked to somebody at Breitbart who says that Steve Bannon uses the word a lot and it was a typo” for jamoke. On Twitter, Ben Zimmer tweeted his agreement with the jamoke argument, observing:
As the great Michael Quinion explains on World Wide Words:
Jamoke is usually said to come from Java plus Mocha. When it first appeared, at the end of the nineteenth century, it literally meant coffee, and was sometimes written as Jamocha, which makes the origin a bit clearer (despite the coffee associations, linguists would say that the word is a clipped compound, not a blend …). An example, from a book called Gay-Cat of 1922: “There ain’t nothing stronger in the booze line than pure alky mixed with jamocha.”
A great many of the references to jamoke in the 20th-century indeed refer to coffee.
Quinion goes on:
Professor Jonathan Lighter, in the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, suggests that jamoke was probably a nautical term to start with. He points out, too, that the evidence suggests it was a World War I soldier’s nickname, perhaps for somebody whose colour or intellect resembled a cup of coffee. Sometime before 1946 it took on a sense of “a stupid, objectionable or inconsequential fellow,” as Mr Lighter puts it. This sense has further evolved in some quarters into one for a dupe or sucker, and was a 1960s slang term for the penis. It has also been used more neutrally for guy or man.
Green notes that jamoke, as slang for “penis,” could derive from the “loser” sense of jamoke just as the term dork initially meant “both a fool and a penis”—also like schmuck, from the Yiddish for “penis” and used as slang for a dope and dick alike. Jamoke‘s j and k may evoke jerk(-)off. Its initial consonant, along with its mild level of offense, may additionally conjure jabroni, a wrestling insult Nancy Friedman examined late last year.
Jamoke also drags up moke, a slang term for a “donkey/fool” as well as a racist slur; the etymological relationship between the two is unclear.
A baby boomer, Bannon attended a military high school and served as a naval officer, which may help explain his familiarity with, if not proclivity for, jamoke.
Maggie Serota, for her part, is quick to note that the Spin newsroom consensus was jamoke. Still, given Bannon’s penchant for profanity—and white supremacy—she leaves open the possibility that jumo is “a slur he invented.” Wolff’s original quote’s othering these, along with jumos’ phonetic associations, may give it a slurry air, but all signs point nevertheless to jamoke.
Replying to Ben Zimmer’s take on the subject, author Ammon Shea does find some interesting evidence for jamoke as “obscene and indecent language” in 1911:
Jumo is an accident, but jamoke may yet have a swearier, slurrier past.