Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The jagoffs at the Oxford English Dictionary officially add “jagoff” to the lexicon

Photo illustration: Mike Vanderbilt
Photo illustration: Mike Vanderbilt

The jagoffs over there at the Oxford English Dictionary have officially added “jagoff” to the lexicon, defining the noun as “a foolish or contemptible person”—not to be confused with the term “jack off,” which is the act of masturbation. But Chicago jagoffs know that it can pepper conversation almost as an adjective, the way Bernie Mac used “motherfucker” or Adam Sandler would use “dude” or “buddy.” (Only jagoffs can call each other “jagoffs,” though.) The A.V. Club was ahead of the curve on this one, describing WWE superstar and Presidential nominee Donald Trump as an “orange haired jagoff” in a headline in June of 2015, beating jagoff Mark Cuban to the punch by a year and leading to a ribald debate on the meaning and origins of the term by a bunch of jagoff commenters.

Chicagoans have long claimed “jagoff” as their own, like pizza, corruption, and losing ball teams. Authors Bill Savage and Paul Durica even compiled a Field Guide To Chicago Jagoffs for Lumpen, a Chicago based politics and culture magazine, in 2015. “What distinguishes jagoffs from all these other kind of annoying people is selfishness,” Savage explains. “That they’re the only person in Chicago that matters,” adds Durica.

Of course, those jagoffs over there in Pittsburgh would disagree, wanting to claim “jagoff” as their own. According to the jagoffs who edit Wikipedia, “jagoff” is “an American English derogatory slang term from Pittsburgh English meaning a person who is stupid or inept.” That jagoff Michael Keaton—a Pennsylvania native—used “jagoff” in the 1982 film Night Shift, arguably the first use of the term “jagoff” in popular culture. That said, Chicago-born playwright David Mamet used “jagoff” in his 1984 piece, Glengarry Glen Ross.


Perhaps “jagoff” is a term shared by both Pittsburgh and Chicago, though. According to the jagoffs over there at DNA Info, the term was originally pronounced “yah-goff” and was “brought over by Eastern European [jagoffs] who settled in ethnic enclaves in [both] Pittsburgh and Chicago.” In 2012, David Shribman, executive editor (and suspected jagoff) over there at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette banned the term ”jagoff” from his newspaper. Chris Potter of the Pittsburgh City Paper did not agree with Shribman, implying that—like many people not from Pittsburgh or Chicago—the editor was confusing “jagoff” with “jack off,” and implying that Shribman was a real jagoff.

But while “jagoff” is now Oxford English official (sans hyphen and a single word) the jagoffs over at Merriam-Webster haven’t gotten on board. When Pittsburgh jagoffs started a petition in 2014 to get “jagoff” inducted into the Merriam-Webster dictionary, some jagoff representative over there said the term was not universal enough to be added.

So, jagoffs of Chicago and Pittsburgh, let’s agree to disagree on the origins of “jagoff,” and simply agree that jagoffs predominantly live over there in Los Angeles or New York. It is certainly no coincidence that “jagoff” was finally added to the dictionary in 2016. After all, it’s going to be a historic election either way: We will either have the first woman president, or the first jagoff president.

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