cover of osgood's book

Text of

"Jazz, That Peculiar Word!"

by Henry O. Osgood

"Jazz, That Peculiar Word!" is the second chapter of Osgood's So This Is Jazz (Boston: Little, Brown, 1926), one of the first full-length books on "jazz." Although Osgood associates the music with African-American culture, he identifies "jazz" primarily as the music of George Gershwin and Paul Whiteman. In this chapter, Osgood--a music critic who wrote for periodicals such as the Musical Courier--surveys definitions of "jazz" that had circulated in the popular press from about 1915 to 1925.
For presentation on the web, the body of this text has been broken down into smaller sections--usually sets of paragraphs that already form units. The first paragraph (on pages 9-10 of the original) is on this site. Below it is a set of links to all passages in the chapter.

JAZZ! The word is new and different, just as the thing itself. In the English language it is distinctly sui generis. Much to the embarrassment and hindering of the Vachel Lindsay school of poetry, there is no true rhyme for it. Razz? Yes. But razz is plainly a rowdy, low-caste word of no standing, whereas jazz is to be found in modern dictionaries of dignity and rank, printed in type as large and important as anthrocarpus, lardaceous, quantivalence or squamoid, or as any of those words that James Gibbons Huneker used to unearth and (with a sly chuckle) use in his essays, just to help out the poor, struggling gentlemen who sell dictionaries. Furthermore razz is not only vulgar; it is impure. Etymologically speaking (if one may be allowed to speak etymologically of anything so lowly as razz) it is the first syllable of the word raspberry, misspelt. To "give the razz" is exactly the same as to "give the raspberry", which means to express disbelief, scorn or contumely of any one; to express it, in fact, in an abrupt, concentrated manner which cannot be mistaken by the victim for anything complimentary. Its equivalent in pantomime is the delicate gesture which consists of whittling the extended left forefinger with the corresponding finger of the other hand, or the more formidable one of placing the tip of the right thumb against the end of the nose and twiddling the widespread fingers. It would be quite worth while for some earnest student of the language to investigate the reason of the selection of so pleasant a word as raspberry, with such sweet and toothsome connotations, to serve as the expression of anything so gross. Were the expression "to give the jazz", it would seem much more appropriate.

To proceed in linear fashion, go to paragraphs 2-4. If you'd like to read nonlinearly...

paragraph number(s) 1 2-4 5-8 9-10 11-13 14-17 18-21 22-25 26 27 28-29
page(s) of original text 9-10 10 10-11 11-12 12-13 13-14 14-16 16-17 17-18 18 18-19

This text is one of several being analyzed by students in the courses "Culture in the Jazz Age," taught by Nick Evans, and "The Rhetoric Around Music," taught by David Liss. Members of both classes are discussing Osgood's work in a message forum designed for that purpose. Other of these texts include:
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