JAKE LEG – JUNE 25, 2015 by Eddie Trapp

While in Galveston riding around with the Glossup’s a while back we saw a man limping across a parking lot. Ronny said his dad, Weldon, referred to people like that as having a “jake leg.” I wondered where in the world that phrase came from. When we got home in a few days I did some research. Throughout history, many men (and women) have resorted to occasionally “taking a nip” of alcohol for various reasons. I remember several older guys back in the Sixties coming in the Charleston Store and buying a bottle of vanilla extract which is 35% alcohol. One in particular bought four bottles and as he walked out by me said, “I’m gonna make a cake.”

The desire for alcohol, especially during prohibition, gave birth to many over the counter cure all’s. Medicine shows also provided bottles of high alcohol, good for what ails you. One of the cure all’s was Jamaica Ginger Extract, up to eighty percent alcohol. The nickname jake was quickly given to the wonder drug. To be legal, jake had to have a lot of ginger to make it bitter, thus somewhat curbing the use for recreation. Two chemists/bootleggers searched for a substitute for ginger so it would taste better. They sought the help of a MIT chemist who, not knowing it was to be used for human consumption, recommended tricresyl phosphate. People had been using jake since the Civil War with no more than normal alcohol problems. In 1930 though the tricresyl phosphate was added with no apparent problems until after a few months users began losing control of their hands and feet.

Especially affected was the muscle that raises the front part of the foot. Maybe you have had some old shoes and the sole came unglued. You know how high you must raise your foot to keep the sole from dragging the ground. That is the way people would walk if they had been drinking contaminated jake very long. Walking that way would produce a definite tap-click sound as the toes hit first followed by the heel. Soon the limping, tap-click walk became known as the jake leg or jake walk. Within a few years the harmful chemical had been identified and removed from jake but 30,000-50,000 people already had the jake leg.

Jake leg was so widely known that it was mentioned in thirteen songs of the Thirties. I listened to some of them on the internet and my favorite, a jivy little song, is “Jake Walk Papa” by Asa Martin. Three others were Jake Leg Blues, Alcohol and Jake Blues, and Jake Liquor Blues. An old Nashville band was called the Jake Leg Stompers. All this talking about limping reminded me of the old joke about the drunk guy walking down the street with one foot on the curb and the other in the gutter. As he limped along a policeman came and arrested him. The drunk guy asked why he was being arrested. The policeman explained he was drunk, walking with on leg on the curb and the other in the gutter. The drunk said, “Thank goodness. I thought I was crippled.”

Coincidence Section. Granddaughter Cameryn Findley of Mt. Vernon recently married Kollin Pletcher. I had never heard of the Pletcher name before. Two days after the wedding I saw that name at the end of a movie as the actors were listed. I called Cameryn’s mom and told her. She had never heard Pletcher before except for Kollin until a year or so ago an unrelated Pletcher family moved into Mt. Vernon.

When traveling, I usually buy a local paper to see what’s going on in the area or maybe find an interesting article. One I liked came from the Houston Chronicle and was titled, “Weird Words.” In the article I learned that “almost” is the longest word in the English language with letters in alphabetical order. The book containing this information is called “The Weird World of Words” by Mitchell Symons. The 192 page book by Zest Books sells for $11.99. With each edition of dictionaries comes a few new words. On the other hand, Symons’ book lists words that were once popular but are no longer, or seldom, used. Some of those are bouffage, a satisfying meal. Cockalorum—a short person that thinks he is very important. Curglaff—the shock a person feels when first going into cold water. Flippercanorious—elegant. Irrisory—addicted to laughing or sneezing. Lunting—walking while smoking a pipe. Scurryflunge—the hasty cleaning of your house from the time you see an unexpected neighbor coming until he/she knocks on the door. Squizzle—to shoot a gun. Wagpastie—a rogue. Since I wonder about so many words and phrases I think I shall order the book.

Sunday was Fathers’ Day and also the first day of summer when the Sun reaches its most northern most point and will soon start back south, crossing the equator on the first day of Fall. Mark the northern edge of your house’s shadow at noon someday soon and watch the shadow length get longer. Summer is a great time for observing the Big Dipper. Find it in the northwest as darkness arrives.

For the next few weeks watch bright Venus and Jupiter in the west at dark. Venus is the brighter of the two. In the south, the brightest star now is Antares, Greek for “equal to Mars.” Both Mars and Antares are reddish in color. Antares, the heart of Scorpio, actually is a lot further off and many, many times larger. Antares is also the 17th brightest star and its radius is 833 times that of our Sun. Astronomers expect Antares to explode in the next few hundred thousand years. For a few months afterward it will be as bright as the full Moon and visible during the day. An exploding star such as described is called a supernova.

What do you call an alligator wearing a vest? An investigator. How many arms does an alligator have? Depends on how many people were swimming. What do you get if you cross an alligator and a flower? I don’t know but I ain’t gonna smell it.

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