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In a short story by Edward Page Mitchel entitled The Last Cruise of the Judas Iscariot, captain Cram, a sailor from Main, tells the story of him building a schooner with three masts, which was frowned upon by the people of the town and considered against nature. After running into many accidents and drowning many cargoes, Captain Cram decides to give her the name of Judas Iscariot because he believes she is possessed with a demonic spirit. While telling its story to a stranger he says:

"She formerly showed the name Flying Sprite on her starn moldin'," said Captain Trumbull Cram, "but I had thet gouged out and planed off, and Judas Iscariot in gilt sot thar instid."

"That was an extraordinary name," said I.

"'Strornary craft," replied the captain, as he absorbed another inch and a half of niggerhead. "I'm neither a profane man or an irreverend; but sink my jig if I don't believe the sperrit of Judas possessed thet schooner. Hey, Ammi?"

The young man addressed as Ammi was seated upon a mackerel barrel. He deliberately removed from his lips a black brierwood and shook his head with great gravity.

"The cap'n," said Ammi, "is neither a profane or an irreverend. What he says he mostly knows; but when he sinks his jig he's allers to be depended on."

My question is about the meaning of sink my jig if I don't believe the sperrit of Judas possessed thet schooner which was repeated by his fellow?

  • I found the term "jig" defined as fishing technique of lowering a weighted lure until just above the bottom, then alternately jerking the rod upwards and lowering on this website. If a jig is used in sea fishing then "sinking one's jig" would be a minor disaster since no fish would be caught but the lure would be lost. Alternatively "jig" could be a corruption of "gig" which refers to a small boat, particularly one used by a captain. – BoldBen Sep 17 '18 at 14:15
  • It may be worth noting that the story was published in the early 1880s. It appears in its entirety in the April 20, 1882, issue of the [Washington, D.C.] Evening Star, reprinted from the April 16, 1882, issue of the [New York] Sun. – Sven Yargs Oct 17 '18 at 19:49
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A jig is a kind of weighted fishing tackle that you attach to the end of a fishing line and pull it through the water to simulate some sort of struggling critter that the fish would like to eat. These things often have feathers or shiny bits and can get expensive/labor-intensive compared to a basic hook.

Problem is, it also takes a good bit of skill and effort to pull the jig along so it doesn't surface (because it doesn't look like something a surface-feeding fish would want to eat) and so it doesn't hit the riverbed/lakebed/etc. because if it snags on trash or seaweed, the jig can get wrenched off. It's weighted with lead weights, so there's very little chance you'll ever see that thing again.

Bottom line, it's a colorful, nautically-themed curse used by a boat captain for the worst possible scenario when jig-fishing.

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    The New York Sun (January 23, 1920) supports this answer: "Practice starting to reel in the moment the jig hits the water, for two reasons. First, because if you don't your jig will sink and catch in a rock; second, because most fish strike then, although a few fish will follow a jig close to the shore." – Sven Yargs Oct 17 '18 at 20:06
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The literal explanation of jig fishing does lend itself to being a good answer to this question, as in the posts of @cardus and @yargs. But as I read and re-read

"'Strornary craft," replied the captain, as he absorbed another inch and a half of niggerhead. "I'm neither a profane man or an irreverend; but sink my jig if I don't believe the sperrit of Judas possessed thet schooner. Hey, Ammi?"

I find I could replace sink my jig with something like cross my heart and thus i pursued the oath alliteration.

In The Urgency of an Unobjectionable Oath published in '08, The Globe and Mail - Arts:

There might be some connection to the earlier expression "well, I'll be jiggered," which has served as a mild, unobjectionable oath since at least the 19th century. Charles Dickens used it in Great Expectations in 1861: " 'Well, then,' said he, 'I'm jiggered if I don't see you home.'

Though the literal of a fishing jig getting stuck is useful, I tend to think the metaphorical 'oath' has much credence.

  • No doubt it's a metaphorical oath. But we use metaphors around what we know. – Carduus Oct 22 '18 at 14:30

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