Q. I was reading a murder mystery recently and a character used the phrase "jump street." I had never heard the phrase before, except in the title of a television show from a while ago called "21 Jump Street." I couldn't find anything about the phrase in my dictionary, but in the context of the murder mystery, it seems to mean "from the start." Do you have any information?A. We don't have a lot of information about "jump street," but you're right about its meaning. According to our scant citational evidence, the complete phrase is usually "from jump street," as in "I knew it right from jump street" or "He's been saying that from jump street." This slang expression originated in the language of African Americans, possibly (according to one source at least) first gaining popularity in the world of jazz musicians.
The earliest recorded evidence we've seen dates to the early 1970s, but it was doubtless in spoken use before then. Our small collection of citations for the phrase comes mostly from fictional dialogue, although we also have quotes from celebrities like musician Rick James and former basketball star James Worthy.
Q. In the King James Version of the Bible, at Genesis 1:28, God tells Adam and Eve to "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth." I'm puzzled by the use of the word "replenish" here. Its dictionary sense of "fill again" doesn't fit the context, since the earth was newly created. I will be grateful if you can explain the use of this word.
A. The English translation of the Bible known as the King James Version was completed in 1611. At the time, "replenish" did not mean "to fill again" as it does today. What it did mean was "to fill with persons or animals," a sense that fits in perfectly with the "replenish the earth" command.
The biblical sense of "replenish" went back to at least the 14th century. The Middle English speakers who first used "replenish" were simply borrowing its meaning from the French, whose verb "replenir" meant in French "to fill." (The Scots, in the meantime, chose to use plain "plenish" instead.) The biblical use of the verb isn't any different from the way the English chronicler Robert Fabyan employed "replenish" in 1494, writing of a man "who made a new forest" and "replenished it with wild beasts."
The sense that we now employ, "to fill again," began to appear right around the time the King James Version came out, in the early 17th century. As far as we know, no one objected to the new meaning.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that after all those years the change occurred during the English Renaissance, a time when English superseded Latin as the language of academia, producing an upsurge of interest in the origins of English words. The new meaning of "replenish," as a verb based ultimately on Latin "re-," meaning "again," and "plenum," meaning "full," was apparently deemed both more logical and in some way "truer" than the older, French sense.
The biblical translation was finally modified to "fill the earth" in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which was first published in 1946.
Q. Every now and then, I hear something described as being "of the first water," in other words, the best. Can you shed some light on where this expression comes from and what it originally meant?
A. The phrase "of the first water" originally described gemstones that were considered the best of their class. Back in the 17th century, the word "water" was used to grade diamonds. Each stone was rated first water, second water or third water. A stone that was regarded as better than all others was of the first water.
The association of gem brilliancy with water is presumed to have originated with the use by Arab traders of an equivalent word meaning "luster." However, it has been noted that gems found in wet locations, for example river beds, are generally of higher quality than those found in dry locations.
For this reason, gemologists now use the term "river" to designate a particularly fine gem. Although the use of "water" to classify gemstones died out by the mid-19th century, the expression "of the first water" eventually worked its way into the general vocabulary as an adjective meaning "first-rate."