Meaning of word "Jaywalker"

Here’s an interesting word I accidentally bumped into in a dictionary: jaywalker – pedestrian who does not take care when crossing the street (there is also ‘jaywalking’). Its Spanish translation is: an imprudent pedestrian or (much less dull sounding) daredevil/suicidal pedestrian.

I also found these synonyms for ‘pedestrian’ interesting: ambler, boot jockey, footslogger, gumshoe, hiker. And how about the adjective ‘pedestrian’ meaning ‘heavy/unimaginative’: rather pedestrian playing by the orchestra?

Finally and funnily enough the word ‘driver’ is considered the antonym of ‘pedestrian’ (I knew that they can sometimes be antagonists or even represent two different categories of people, but still!).

Hi Conchita

You’re right, “jaywalker” is an funny word. I’ve heard that this term has its origin in Kansas, but I suspect many New Yorkers would try to claim it as their own. It’s illegal to jaywalk in New York City, but this law is hardly ever enforced.

I’m a bit mystified as to why “gumshoe” would be considered a synonym for “pedestrian”. For me a “gumshoe” is first and foremost a detective (or possibly also a kind of shoe). The detective could do his “detecting” primarily on foot, but still, I would never dream of saying that “gumshoe” is a synonym for “pedestrian”. :shock: Where did you find this?

And finally, yes, that is interesting that “driver” should be considered an antonym for “pedestrian”… But I guess in this day and age (particularly in the States) you either walk or you drive. And therefore they’re opposites. :wink:


To me jaywalking means crossing the street in the middle of the block or diagonally across an intersection. That’s how most people in area interpret it, so I was surprised that the dictionaries just say it means to cross carelessly and illegally.

I agree that a gumshoe is a detective. So do the Merriam-Webster dictionary and the Oxford American. “Detective” is the only definition they give of that word.

I accidentally posted that last one without finishing.

Sometimes you can find foreign dictionaries of American slang that contain nearly no modern words and list almost nothing but expressions that have to have died before the 20th century even started. This is especially true of such dictionaries that were created in Eastern Europe when it was still sealed off by communist governments. They must have been compiled from old novels.

One of my friends was teaching English to professors and graduate students at the University of Leningrad, when it still had that name, and he found the students speaking in a comical way that used too many Latinisms. He tried to teach them to use ordinary phrasal verbs, but they resisted. When he asked them why they weren’t cooperating, a student said, in perfect RP, “Why, these verbs are so informal! You could use them perhaps with a strumpet or a brigand!” He usually resists laughing at that stuff, but that time he couldn’t.

Hi Jamie
That’s exactly the same way I understand “jaywalking”.


Natives of Kansas are nicknamed Jayhawkers, not jaywalkers.

A look through ONE LOOK will give you added information.

Also, you ought to be able to figure out the derivation of gumshoe as a detective from this definition (courtesy of American Heritage Dictionary):

NOUN: 1. A sneaker or rubber overshoe. 2. Slang- An investigator, especially a detective.
Slang 1. To work as a detective. 2. To move about stealthily; sneak.

How it got to be just any old pedestrian is just a simple ‘step’ from there, I think.

I thought I had already replied to your question, but my post has vanished – I must have clicked the wrong ‘button’ again!

I had looked the word up on to search for (funny!) synonyms. The data source is listed as Roget’s New Millennium™ Thesaurus, First Edition (v 1.2.1), edited by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD, Copyright © 2006 by Lexico Publishing Group, LLC.

One funny theory I read somewhere (among other more plausible ones!) suggests that “the term ‘gumshoe’ originated because private investigators did so much walking in bad neighborhoods to interview people and gather information that they inevitably ended up with gum on their shoes.” Chewing gum on the pavement is certainly one of many perils that pedestrians have to endure!

This reminds me of a certain tunnel in or around Mexico City, whose walls are covered in pellets of chewing gum of all sizes and colours. It’s apparently the custom, as you drive through the tunnel, to throw (chewed) gum balls at its walls!

Hi Conchita

By “funny”, did you mean “funny ha-ha” or “funny strange”? (Hmmm… there’s that “bad bad” format again… ;))
The theory about gum on their shoes as an explanation for why a private detective is called a “gumshoe” is interesting. :smiley: I’d never thought of that possibility before. But, it sounds good, doesn’t it?

I’ve always thought “gumshoe” meaning “private detective” arose from the fact that a detective has to do his investigating in a stealthy manner, and, of course, wearing shoes with rubber soles enables you to walk around much more quietly.

But, I still think that saying that “gumshoe” is a synonym for “pedestrian” is going much too far. For me it’s like saying that “mailman” or “postman” or “door-to-door salesman” is synonymous with “pedestrian”.

So, I think you’re absolutely right! That is a “funny” synonym. :lol:


I once had a pair of (rubber) tyre soled shoes – trendy and sensible, which isn’t such a rare combination any more. In those days I was working at an embassy and, whenever I wore the inconspicuously silent shoes, a colleague of mine would say: “You’ve got your KGB shoes on”! (I’ve just realised that the use of ‘inconspicuously’ might be wrong here, after all!)

Hi Conchita

“KBG shoes”? Hmmm… clandestinely sneaking around the embassy, were you? :wink:

Speaking of ‘silent shoes’, now that I think about it, even “sneakers” aren’t always necessarily “silent”. What has just come to mind is the very loud “squeaking” sound that basketball players’ shoes often make when they’re playing.


I have some sneakers that make a loud slurping sound when I walk in from the rain.

Amy, you used, “Do you mean funny ha-ha, or funny strange?” That’s a good idiom, very common. I was going to post that one, but you beat me to it. Another way of asking the same thing is, “Do you mean funny funny or just funny?”

There’s another common idiom I teach, but I can’t post it on this site very well. It’s the “duuum-da-dum-dum!” from the old Dragnet shows. Even kids who are too young to know Dragnet say this. It means, “Uh-oh! That guy’s in serious trouble, and he doesn’t even know it yet.”

Hi! Going back to the term “jaywalker”, to me the term means a person crossing outside the pedestrian lane or area. I agree with Miss Amy on why “pedestrian” is an antonym of “driver”. A “pedestrian” is person who is walking while a “driver” is a person who is driving. It came from the thought that you are either walking or driving.

Yes, and you are either the goodie or the baddie, depending on whether you happen to be driving or walking! :slight_smile:

Talking of which, for drivers (especially male ones, as the feminist stereotype has it) any other driver is the baddie, too – and woe if they commit the crime of being a woman!!

I wonder what the equivalent of ‘jaywalker’ is for drivers. Suicidal driver, perhaps?

Hi Conchita

A word that comes to mind is the verb “to tailgate” which involves driving much too close behind the car in front of you. So, you’re driving dangerously because you wouldn’t be able to stop in time if the car in front of you were to stop suddenly. Tailgating happens sometimes in the US. Here in Germany it happens much more often — and at higher speeds. :shock: Although men seem to be much more likely to tailgate, I’ve seen women do it, too.

Another word that I’ve always found funny is the verb “to rubberneck”. I usually associate this word with driving, although you could probably find “rubberneckers” in other (non-driving) situations. In the US, I often used to hear something similar to the following sentences in the traffic reports on the radio:
There is a 5-mile backup on I95 northbound due to a 3-car accident. Traffic in the southbound lanes is slow due to rubbernecking.”

The rubberneckers are the people driving by an accident who feel they absolutely must see and gawk at what happened. They turn their heads and stare. Rubberneckers often cause accidents themselves because while they’re straining to see the other crash, they’re not paying any attention to their own driving.

I don’t like rubberneckers, but I’ve always enjoyed the word itself. :smiley:


Going back to the word “jaywalker”, apparently it was Kansas City that I’d heard (and not Kansas) as a possible origin. The explanations as to the origin of this word seem to be a bit varied. Here’s an interesting Link:


Interesting words, Amy, thank you! I also find ‘rubbernecker’ especially comical :lol: – and I think rubbernecking is only too human, really.

Amy, you must have been away from the US for a long time. When I left in 1991 there was not much tailgating, but when I came back in 1994 it was practically universal. People even form what I call tailgating caravans, where five or more cars are all tailgating each other. If you’re to the left of one of those, and your exit is coming up, you’ll have a tough time getting off the freeway. Even semi drivers tailgate now! I attibute it to the fact that teenagers don’t have to see movies like “Mechanized Death” anymore before passing their driver’s ed courses. If I get too close to someone or take too much of a risk, I still immediately see in my mind a smashed car containing a trapped, screaming woman who looks like ravioli.

Once I heard some sociologist on the radio who had made a study of driving behavior. The interviewer asked, “Who tailgates more, men or women?” He said they tailgate about equally, “But women do more of the ramming.” YIPES! RAMMING?! Apparently in California, where the study was done, some people ram the back of cars that they think are going to slowly. I was really shocked.

In my town they say it’s due to “gawkers”. Same thing.

Often in Detroit the radio says that traffic is slow somewhere because of a carbecue, i.e., there’s a car on fire.

People should also know about the term road rage, which means very aggressive, belligerent driving because of anger. There’s a lot more now than there ever was 20 years ago. One of my friends claims it’s caused by cupholders.

Hi Jamie

You’re right, I’ve been in Germany since 1989, but I go back to the States for a nice long “German-style” vacation (i.e. 4-6 weeks ;)) every year. Tailgating naturally tends to be worse in heavily populated areas — I assume both in the States and in Germany. But the tailgating (and also “dare devil driving”) I’ve seen and experienced in this part of Germany is really something “special”.

Most of my German friends don’t classify tailgaters and aggressive drivers according to gender, but rather by what type of car they drive. The consensus is that BMW and Audi drivers tend to be the worst offenders.

One thing I’m glad about, though. At least Germans drive on the right side of the road. :wink:

But speaking of national driving habits… I once had an Italian student and he informed me that stopping at a red traffic light is seen as completely “optional” in Italy. Do you suppose that’s really true or was he just ‘pulling my leg’?