The letter J first came about as a variation of the letter i, originally used to clarify the last in a sequence of Roman numerals—so iii, for 3, might once have been written iij to avoid any confusion with whatever followed. Over time, it began to establish itself as a letter in its own right, with its own distinct sound, but it wasn’t until after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 that J first began to appear in English words: Scribes borrowed it into English from French in the early Middle Ages as a replacement for the initial dzh sound (that’s the voiced palate-alveolar affricate, should you want to know), found in words like judge and jump. Even today, J is much more likely to be found in the initial position than it is anywhere else in a word.
Overall, though, J remains a fairly rare letter in English—you can expect to find it in just 0.16 percent of the words in a dictionary, including the 35 joyous J words here.
An old Scots word meaning “to shake liquid around in a container.”
Seventeenth-century slang for someone (originally, a clergyman) called in as a replacement at the very last moment.
As well as being an old southwest English word for a holly leaf, a jack-sharp is a harsh, tingling frost or cold.
Jacktance, also spelled jactancy, is a 15th-century word for boastfulness.
To jactitate is to toss around restlessly.
An old 19th-century word for magic or conjuring, derived from the Hindi word for enchantment, jadu.
Derived from the French word for jealousy, to jalouse something is to be suspicious of it. Originally used only in Scots literature (and popularized by Sir Walter Scott in several of his works in the early 1800s), later writers commandeered the word and misused it as meaning “to jealously begrudge someone something.” Either meaning can be used today.
An old dialect word meaning “to ring a bell rapidly.”
An old Scots word meaning “to walk awkwardly because your shoes are too big for your feet.”
Used by Geoffrey Chaucer to mean babbling, idle chatter.
An 18th century southwest English nickname for mud, referring to the typical weather conditions in England in January. (And the other 11 months of the year.)
To confuse or jumble something up is to jargogle it.
If you’re jenticulating, then you’re having breakfast. Need an adjective to describe something breakfasty? That’s jentacular.
Named after the Lamentations of Jeremiah in the Old Testament, a jeremiad is text or speech outlining a complaint or a list of grievances.
Derived from iettatore, an Italian word for the evil eye, a jettatore is a person who brings back luck. Jettatura, derived from the same root, is another name for bad luck.
In other words, that’s a jet d’eau—an ornamental jet of water, like one from a fountain.
A 17th-century word meaning “to fidget” or “to shuffle around.”
If you have a jimber-jaw, then your bottom jaw protrudes further out than your upper jaw.
An old Scots word meaning “to pour liquid from one vessel into another,” and so also, “to spill liquid by handling it clumsily.”
Ninteenth century Australian slang for a man with a very hairy face. According to The Routledge Dictionary of Historical Slang, it derives from “a Russian ‘dog-man,’ ostensibly so-named [who was] exhibited in Melbourne,” sometime around 1880.
Derived from the biblical character of Job, who was made by God to endure a series of devastating personal misfortunes and disasters, to Job or jobe someone is to harangue or castigate them at great length; a jobation is a long and drawn-out scolding criticism or rebuke.
Also spelled jabbernowl, this is a good old Tudor-period word for a foolish, empty-headed person. No one knows for sure what jobber means, but nowl is an old English dialect word for the top of a person’s head.
Someone who keeps telling jokes? They’re a joculator.
An old English dialect word for a slow, dawdling worker.
To enjoy using or possessing something is to joise it.
Coined by Dickens to mean “slow-wittedness” or “stupidity.” Jolter-head has been another word for a numbskull since the 1600s.
Also known as jookery-cookery, this is a 16th-century dialect word for dodgy dealing or sleight of hand, probably derived from jouk, an even earlier Scots word meaning “to dexterously evade or swerve to dodge something.”
Horses, giraffes, Bactrian camels, some species of wolf and antelope, and most famously lions are all jubate—it’s an adjective describing anything (or anyone) with a mane of hair.
A 17th-century euphemism for being drunk.
In Victorian slang, to go juggins-hunting meant to be on the lookout for someone who’s willing to buy you a drink.
Derived from a Latin word literally meaning “to cut the throat” (a jugulator is a murderer, incidentally), nowadays you’re much more likely to come across jugulate in a figurative context meaning “to stop something powerfully or suddenly.” It’s often used to describe drastic medical treatments that stop a disease from developing immediately.
A jument is a beast of burden, and in particular a horse. In 19th century medical language, the adjective jumentous was used to describe particularly dark, strong-smelling urine, like that of a horse. (No, really.)
The French phrase jusqu’au bout literally means “up to the very end.” It’s the root of jusqu’auboutisme, a word that refers to a determination to doggedly see something through to its conclusion. Someone who does just that is a jusqu’auboutiste.
Describes anywhere located by the sea.