For an expression that's been around since way back in 1910, it's somewhat odd that many of us have no idea what the word jaywalking actually means. It's not like you could get ticketed, fined, or even potentially arrested for it, right?

Actually, you could have one of those penalties dropped on you for jaywalking--but, like winning lottery jackpots, the odds are pretty strongly against anything happening to you (except perhaps someone flipping you off) if you do it.

Oh, wait. You could get killed. I totally forgot that part.

Getty Images
Does anyone see a crosswalk? Me, either. (Getty Images)

Let's Get To The Word "Jaywalking" First, Because I Didn't Know Until Today What A "Jay" Is To Begin With

I've always been curious about where certain names and expressions come from, especially the ones that aren't self-explanatory. I mean, "fireplace" is probably the most self-explanatory name of, well, anything. Even if you've never seen one before, chances are you'd figure it out fast. Not so much with jaywalking.

In 1917, "jay" was a common slang word for hick, or, more kindly, a person inexperienced in the ways of the big city. Consequently, a jaywalker was somebody who was clueless about those newfangled traffic signals telling people when they could and couldn't walk.

I guess jaywalking will do, but I've gotta tell you, I think I'd like hick-walking, or rube-walking, or even bumpkin-walking a lot more.

There's even an old-timey(19th century) cartoon with a jaywalking reference:

Getty Images
Getty Images

Let's Say I'm A Jay, Or A Hick, Or A Rube, Or Some Bumpkin, And I Start Jaywalking

That would basically mean that I'm just crossing streets wherever the hell I feel like it, apparently. Pretty much like the people who populate large cities like Chicago. defines jaywalking this way: "to walk across a street at a place where it is not allowed or without taking care to avoid the traffic."

As to whether or not jaywalking is illegal here in's not really clear, but it would be a good idea to be careful about it. has this to say about the legalities of jaywalking:
While jaywalking isn’t explicitly listed in Illinois state law as being illegal, pedestrians are expected to follow traffic laws and traffic signals. Pedestrians have the right-of-way on the road at any marked crosswalk or designated intersection. Usually, traffic signs indicate a pedestrian crosswalk, or there will be a crossing guard or crossing light to help pedestrians cross safely. However, in areas with no crosswalk, pedestrians must yield to the drivers on the road.

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