Janky: Of extremely poor or unreliable quality. U.S. slang (chiefly African-American); earliest citations are from the early 1990s. Sometimes intensified as janky-ass or truncated as jank.
Janky was one of a clutch of words added to OxfordDictionaries.com in February 2015. (Other additions included vishing, McTwist, and teachable moment.) The word’s origin is murky; the more comprehensive Oxford English Dictionary says it’s “probably” a regional, affected, or colloquial pronunciation of junky. Juba to Jive: A Dictionary of African-American Slang, published in 1994, classifies it as a noun meaning “bad luck,” and says it’s “probably” a variant of jinxed.
I happened across janky on the first page of a book I’ve been reading: Rust: The Longest War, written by Jonathan Waldman and published earlier this year by Simon & Schuster. The title of the book’s preface is “A Janky Old Boat,” and in four vivid paragraphs Waldman relates how a falling-apart vessel—a 30-year-old sloop bought by Waldman and two friends in 2007—spurred him to immerse himself in corrosion studies.
Janky was only the first of many fascinating revelations in Rust, which is one of the livelier single-topic nonfiction books I’ve read. Here are a few of them:
- Had it not been for two political activists who in 1984 attempted to scale the Statue of Liberty to stage a protest, the statue’s dire condition—it was rusting from the inside out—might not have been discovered in time to counteract it. (Waldman: “There were cracks in her left eye, in her lips, in her nose, and in her chin. She had a big stain on the front of her neck, almost like drool. She had rust boogers.”) The effort cost $277 million in public and private funds and took two years, not counting “a year and a half of nothing much.”
- There is a corrosion engineer in the U.S. named Rusty Strong.
- The city of El Cerrito, California—just north of Berkeley—was originally named Rust. (That’s all Waldman tells us, but according to El Cerrito’s official website, the town got its name from a 19th-century settler, a German immigrant named William Rust. Improbably enough, Rust was a blacksmith.)
- Brand names of rust-fighting products include Rust Fighter, Rust Destroyer, Rust Killer, Rust Bandit, Rust Defender, Rust Bomb, RustBlast, Rust Bullet, and Corrosion Grenade.
- A sampling of corrosion-engineering lingo: galling, spalling, necking, jacking, tubercle, tubular, pig, squid, and perfect end.
- “[I]t took engineers 125 years of tinkering with steel can designs before they figured out how to encase beer within, another quarter century for them to wheedle aluminum into service, and most of another decade for them to swap the beer with Coke.” (For various reasons, Coke is “a corrosion nightmare.”)
- Since 2009, LeVar Burton—of Roots and Reading Rainbow—has hosted four 30- to 45-minute Pentagon funded corrosion videos for a series called Corrosion Comprehension. He is “the Pentagon’s public face for rust.”
- “In 2004, the National Association of Corrosion Engineers published an ‘action-packed comic book adventure’ to introduce eight- to fifteen-year-olds to the exciting world of rust. At the group’s 2013 conference, an actor dressed as the book’s superhero, Inspector Protector, posed for photos with NACE members and officials when not doing flips.” – Waldman’s caption for a color plate of the comic book’s cover.
As energetically written and enlightening as Rust is, I was frustrated by the lack of a bibliography and an index—rather shocking omissions for a fact-packed book. I hope the publisher of the paperback edition, if and when it comes, will invest in both—and also in a little extra copyediting to correct annoying errors like “vice” (to mean a clamp, or vise*) and “after a small blip, it sunk [sank] lower.”
* British English uses vice for the gripping tool, but American English uses vise. Rust is written by an American and published in the U.S.