Word Routes

Exploring the pathways of our lexicon

The Last Word on "Jedi"

Star Wars: The Last Jedi comes out Dec. 15, and I haven’t been this excited to see a movie since… well, last month’s Thor: Ragnarok.

But still, I’m psyched is the point. 2015’s The Force Awakens was a welcome return to form after the remorseless, lecherous, treacherous, kindless prequels, and I can’t wait to see what happens next with Rey, Finn, Luke, Chewbacca, and the worst son in the galaxy, Kylo Ren.

But Star Wars isn’t just for sci-fi geeks: it provides plenty of fodder for word geeks too. Star Wars has made many contributions to English, but none more significant than Jedi. Even without our own Yoda or Obi-Wan, we can all be Jedi professionally or spiritually.

In Star Wars, the Jedi are the good guys, but good guys shrouded in mystery, like a combination of samurai and the Yeti. Jedi know how to use the force, that mysterious force that has often been compared to duct tape since it has a dark side, a light side, and I can never find it when I need it. (Or, it binds the universe together, whatever). Jedi fight the good fight via lightsabers, telekinesis, Olympic-level acrobatics, and Jedi mind tricks (more on those in a moment).

Outside geeky references to Star Wars, the most common use of Jedi is in absurd job titles, some of which are embraced by companies, and some self-applied on employment sites. The genre of goofy job titles is deep and wide, including Chief Happiness Officer, Head of Amazing, Digital Prophet, Brand Warrior, Mischief Champion, and Coding Ninja, real titles tragically never mentioned by my high school guidance counselor. Do you think I’d be a lowly freelance writer if I’d known Chief Software Unicorn were an option?

Jedi is fodder for many such titles, such as Marketing Wizard & Entertainment Jedi, which may require a degree from Dagaboh Technical Institute. A search through LinkedIn reveals more Jedi than a Star Wars convention, with titles such as Marketing Jedi, Wine Jedi, Data Jedi, Team Building Jedi, and Underwriting Jedi, which sounds underwhelming. One fellow even calls himself a Jedi Ninja, as if one ridiculous self-description weren’t enough.

While such titles are part of the corporate world’s bottomless capacity to produce jargon and malarkey, they also bring to mind a more human, relatable desire: the wish to still be a kid and not have to go to work at all. These silly job titles are almost a form of lexical cosplay.

Another notable use of Jedi is by groups such as the Temple of the Jedi Order: a real-life Jedi religion, though levitation may not be available in all states. As a New York Times article discusses, Jedi-ism drew attention and raised eyebrows in 2001 when, apparently, “hundreds of thousands” of people around the world listed Jedi as their religion on the census—and they weren’t all joking.

The Temple of the Jedi Order, one of several Jedi groups, is all business on their website, no jokes about midichlorians, please: “The Jedi here are real people that live or lived their lives according to the principles of Jediism, the real Jedi religion or philosophy. Jedi followers, ministers and leaders embrace Jediism as a real living, breathing religion and sincerely believe in its teachings. Jediism does not base its focus on myth and fiction but on the real life issues and philosophies that are at the source of myth. Whether you want to become a Jedi, are a real Jedi looking for additional training or just interested in learning about and discussing The Force, we're here for you.” Good to know.

The most successful variation of Jedi is Jedi mind trick, named for the way Jedi impose their minds on the weak-willed. The origin is a classic: in the very first Star Wars movie, Obi-Wan tells Stormtroopers “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for,” and they go along with it, because Jedi magic.

The concept has been fodder for endless comparisons and jokes. Tweeter @Monkeyslick recently boasted, “i started a rumor that a friend was hosting a new years party...and now its a real thing! #jedimindtrick.” While posting a plaintive pooch pic, @MKeenerWrites tweeted, “My dog is using the Jedi mind trick on me. ‘You will stop writing & take me out.’ #amwriting #dogmom.” Of a British politician, @chris_eyre wrote, “Philip Hammond says there are ‘no unemployed people’ - I wonder if he was attempting a Jedi mind trick. Didn’t work.” In a sense, all successful lies could be considered Jedi mind tricks.

Like the lingo of Star Trek (Klingon, cloaking device, mind meld, etc.), Star Wars terms such as Jedi are firmly entrenched in English and aren’t going anywhere, no matter how sick you are of the corporate beast George Lucas spawned. For a story set a long time ago in galaxy far, far away, Luke Skywalker and company (and their words) are never far.

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Mark Peters is a language columnist, lexicographer, and humorist who has written for Esquire, The Funny Times, New Scientist, Psychology Today, Salon, and Slate. He contributes to OUPblog and writes the Best Joke Ever column for McSweeney's. You can read Mark's own jokes on Twitter, such as, "I play by my own rules, which is probably why no one comes to my board game parties anymore." Click here to read more articles by Mark Peters.

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Comments from our users:

Sunday January 7th 2018, 10:46 AM
Comment by: Melody A.
“Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.”

― P.T. Barnum
Wednesday January 17th 2018, 5:51 PM
Comment by: Adwitathereader (Plainsboro, NJ)
I watched the Last Jedi, Pretty big fan of star wars

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