A TikTok video by QueenBV59, about her preparations for casting a ballot during early voting, was shared all over Twitter on Thursday. I’ve watched it half a dozen times myself.
SHE READY pic.twitter.com/zLWQbSMljH— Meena Harris (@meenaharris) October 15, 2020
One repeated word—jush—was new to me and, apparently, to some other viewers as well.
OK, folks, I’m gonna go over here and get my jush
Y’all need to get y’all jush and get y’all vote on
I’m gonna get my damn jush
Jush—rhymes with push—turns out to be a rare slang term that can be traced to a single person. But it isn’t quite as simple as that.
The word was popularized, and possibly coined, by Jasmine Masters, the stage name of Martell Robinson, a contestant on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” season 7 (2015) and “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 4” (2018-2019). You may remember Ms. Masters from “And I Oop!”, the most-used gif of 2019.
Here’s how Ms. Masters explained jush in April 2017.
Me and my sister Chevelle Brooks, we always say, Hey, jush, what you doin’
Or “I’m smoking jush”
We spell it J-U-S-H. We took the P out of push and just added a J
I’m getting my jush making a video
It’s a noun in all these examples, with no specific meaning—it’s almost a placeholder, like whatchamacallit. But listen to the first few seconds of the video:
The word jush means … you know, you fixin’ somebody up, like “Let me jush you up before you go out there. That’s what it means—that’s the the old school.
Old-school jush—a verb—is usually spelled zhuzh (or zhush, jusj, zhuzh, tszuj, or zhoosh). The Merriam-Webster blog credited its spread to the first incarnation of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” which aired from 2003 to 2007:
A go-to word for Queer Eye’s original fashion guru, Carson Kressley, zhuzh describes the act of making slight improvements or accents to a wardrobe or look (such as by adding a pocket square, teasing one’s hair, or popping a shirt collar).
In 2019, Kressley told Salon TV that he learned the word—which he insisted is spelled tszuj—when he worked for Ralph Lauren. “It’s kind of a Yiddish-Jewish-garmento kind of term,” he asserted.
But is it? Merriam-Webster cites the OED, which added zhoosh to its online dictionary in 2006 and identifies the word as “originally Polari”—a form of cant slang used by entertainers, carnival workers, and the underground gay subculture in Britain. (For more on Polari, see my November 2016 post on fake.) The OED’s earliest citation is from a June 2, 1977, article in the UK publication Gay News: “As feely homies..we would zhoosh our riahs, powder our eeks, climb into our bona new drag, don our batts and troll off to some bona bijou bar.”
(That’s a whole lot of Polari that you’ll have to look up for yourself.)
So “old-school” jush was a development of zhuzh (or however you want to spell it), a verb with a clear if hard-to-specify meaning that became—with a new spelling and a slight shift in pronunciation—an all-purpose noun, like the famous “context-dependent substitute noun” jawn, associated with Philadelphians.
Or as Jasmine Masters put it in June 2018: “It’s a good word just to fill in when you don’t want everybody to know our business.”
Using the name Martelle [sic] Robinson, Ms. Masters and two co-registrants filed for trademark protection of JUSH for hats, hoodies, sweaters, and T-shirts on August 30, 2017. Registration was granted on January 8, 2019, and it appears that some products were manufactured and shipped. I couldn’t find any of those original products—or the fabulous fan in QueenBV59’s video—but there are plenty of jush-themed knockoffs.
GET YOUR JUSH T-shirt by “Emospicex” on Red Bubble
And some enterprising individuals have turned zhuzh into brand names. There’s a Zhuzh Designs, a “hospitality powered design platform for real estate brokers,” and a Zhuzh! graphic design studio in South Africa that promises “spirit, splendour & sparkle!”
In San Francisco, yet another Zhuzh “provides strategic design solutions to discerning clients”; founder Zack Shubkagel—is “Zhuzh” his nickname?—includes a pronunication tip (“/ZHo͝oSH/”) and does a nice job zhuzhing up the wordmark.
Postscript: QueenBV59 got her jush and she got her vote on.