Etymology Puzzler

Jan 25, 2022

The Puzzler has returned! Now, this was sent to us. And we're not going to give the name of the person who sent in the puzzler just yet. Why? Because all their friends will try to call them up and try to get the answer! So we'll tell you next week!

Okay, here we go. Yeah. So the submitter says, "Everybody listening to Car Talk knows all about jalopies" (I.e. broken down cars with too many miles and like 63 Dodge Dartres.) "But what is a jalopy and why is it called a jalopy?"

Just a humble little question. In other words, what is the derivation of that expression "jalopy"?


This puzzle was submitted by John Ross from Seattle, Washington.

Yeah, John. This was a winner.

His puzzler was kind of cute. Everyone has heard the term "jalopy" and we wanted to know from whence this English word came. I mean, how did this word creep into the English vocabulary?

And his answer sometime in the 1920s, large numbers of old American cars were shipped to Mexico to the port of Veracruz, and then transported inland to a town where they were remanufactured and rehabilitated for sale throughout Mexico.

So if you had a 1913 Stevens Duryea or whatever, it would get shipped to Mexico and would be sold as a rehabilitated car.

So all these old cars would get shipped down to Mexico. And the town to which they were shipped was a town that was famous for a certain kind of very spicy pepper, the jalapeño pepper. And the town is called Jalapa.

So the longshoreman that we're putting these things on the boats didn't know how to say "Jalapa" and they pronounced it jah-lopa. Right? So here's another car going down to Jalapa, or here's another one of those Jalapas. And sooner or later, it turns into jalopies!  And there are a bunch of jalopies, without a doubt.

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