Tony Leighton is a Canadian writer happily retired and attempting to help others feel the same.

Vocabuteria: juju

[An ongoing feature designed to improve your vocabulary and mine. Think of these as palate cleansers between main courses. Or maybe scenic detours.]


I’ve never used this word before. Yet I’m thinking its sexiness could soon propel it into the mainstream. It comes from Africa (as we all do). It’s a type of Nigerian music, but more commonly a “supernatural power attributed to a charm or fetish.” Maybe I like it because it’s so close to the unrelated jujube, which I’ve always liked. (There's a bit of magic in those too.) Ian Brown, an adept user of words for the Globe & Mail, wrote glibly about Christmas letters just before Christmas, including the quote below, a micro-education on mistletoe punctuated with today’s word. To be understood, “juju” probably needs an modifier. “Magic” works, as would: “voodoo,” “evil eye,” and “witchy.” But you’d be going too far if you used “mumbo jumbo.” The mouth bounces around too much.

People started to kiss under mistletoe because the Celts considered it a symbol of fertility. The slimy white berries represented drops of semen from the cosmic bull that allegedly impregnated the goddess of the Earth. Such cards, those Celts! But there was a logic to their thinking. Mistletoe is parasitic, and relies on its host tree for nutrients, rather than on light and photosynthesis. So when the Druid intelligentsia noticed the berries blooming in November and December, at the darkest time of the year, they figured mistletoe had some magic juju.

How do you write a Christmas letter for 2018, a year of hell?
by Ian Brown, Globe & Mail
December 22, 2018


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