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Jagoff or jag-off is an American derogatory slang term from Pittsburgh English meaning a person who is stupid or inept.[1] It is most prominent in the Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania areas.[2][3] The Dictionary of American Regional English defines the term as "general term of disparagement."[4] It is an archetypical Pittsburgh word, conjuring warm and nostalgic feelings among Pittsburgh expatriates.[5]

According to Barbara Johnstone, Professor of English and Linguistics at Carnegie Mellon University,[6] the term has its roots in the northern British Isles, an area that supplied many immigrants to Pittsburgh.[7] It is derived from the verb "to jag," which means "to prick or poke."[7] Johnstone said that "Nobody thinks of these derivatives of ‘jag' as obscene."[7]

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sports journalist Dejan Kovacevic said "The true measure of any distinct language is its ability to create a word that no one else can match. And that, I always have found, is the beauty of the fairly harmless term "jagoff.""[8]

Use in media as a typical Pittsburgh phrase

Michael Keaton, a native of Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh, uses the term in his film debut, Night Shift, in a scene where his character, a towel-boy at an adult club known as Paradise Found, fights with his boss. He uses it again in Gung Ho, in the scene before Kazuhiro tries to drown himself in the river.

The term made an appearance in the 2010 Denzel Washington film Unstoppable as a nod to the fact that the movie was filmed in Pittsburgh.[9]

The term also appears in the 1992 movie Glengarry Glen Ross. Dave Moss, the character played by Ed Harris, utters the phrase "...I get humiliated by some jagoff cop."

In the scene where he's negotiating the outside ledge of a high building, Bill Murray calls the man shooting at him a jagoff in The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997).

In Martin Scorsese's movie Casino the character played by Robert de Niro is being called a "fucking jag-off". An accident that results in a violent bar fight.

SNL writer/actor Seth Meyers (the son of a Pittsburgh native) used the term and a Pittsburghese accent during a sketch entitled "Bar;" he also employed a Bill Cowher impression.[10]

The term also made an appearance in the AMC TV show Breaking Bad Season 3 Episode 7 'One Minute'. Drug Enforcement Agent Hank Schrader receives a phone call warning of an attempt on his life. After the disguised voice finishes the warning, Schrader states, "I don't get the gag jagoff, who is this?"

In the 2012 movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie studies at a Pennsylvania highschool. In the classroom, the girl sitting next to him notices he wears a new suit and tells him: "Nice look, jagoff!".

Joe Mantegna (Character David Rossi) uses the term Jagoff in several episodes of Criminal Minds.

In the Community episode Accounting for Lawyers (Season 2, Episode 2), Jeff's former boss Ted (played by Drew Carey) refers to another lawyer, Alan, as "Spineless, trust fund, jagoff".

Controversies over the term

In 2010, Pittsburgh-native and coach of the Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball team, John Calipari raised hackles in the media when he jokingly referred to fellow Pittsburgher John Buccigross as a "jagoff".[11]

In 2012, David Shribman, a Massachusetts native and executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, issued a letter banning the use of the word "jagoff" anywhere in the newspaper.[7] The decision was mocked by Chris Potter of the Pittsburgh City Paper, noting that Shribman's letter belied an utter lack of understanding of the actual etymology and history of the word, as he had confused it with the more base homophone for masturbation.[7] In response The Beaver County Times used some form of the term 19 times in a single article, suggesting that Shribman has "Jagoffphobia."[12]


  1. ^  
  2. ^ "Pittsburgh Speech & Society Dictionary". University Library System,  
  3. ^ "Pennsylvania".  
  4. ^ "D".  
  5. ^ Sodergren, Rebecca (July 3, 2012). "Ex-Pittsburghers are hungry for Pittsburgh".  
  6. ^ "Barbara Johnstone, Professor of English and Linguistics". Department of English,  
  7. ^ a b c d e Potter, Chris (June 27, 2012). "Let Us Now Praise Famous Jagoffs - The latest chapter for a misunderstood word".  
  8. ^ "Pirates Q&A with Dejan Kovacevic".  
  9. ^ Vancheri, Barbara (July 3, 2012). Unstoppable' delivers high-octane action and suspense"'".  
  10. ^ Owen, Rob (March 26, 2012). "Tuned In: 'SNL' speaks Pittsburghese 'n'at".  
  11. ^ Miller, Mike (January 25, 2010). "Calipari's term of endearment".  
  12. ^ "There's nothing but (censored) everywhere we look".  
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