Jagoff or jag-off is an American English 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 a "general term of disparagement."[4] It is an archetypical Pittsburgh word, conjuring feelings of delight 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 and public events

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

SNL writer/actor Seth Meyers, the son of a Pittsburgh native, used the term and a Pittsburghese accent during a sketch entitled "Bar" in which he also performed a Bill Cowher impression.[10]

On December 8, 2015, Mayor John Fetterman of Braddock, Pennsylvania, declared Donald Trump a jagoff in a press release[11] after Trump called for a ban of all Muslims travelling to the United States.[12]

On July 30, 2016, Pittsburgh native Mark Cuban, a technology entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, called candidate Donald Trump as a "jagoff" during a speech in Pittsburgh endorsing Hillary Clinton for president of the United States.[13]

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".[14]

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."[15]


  1. Johnstone, Barbara. "American Varieties: Steel Town Speak". Do You Speak American?. PBS. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  2. "Pittsburgh Speech & Society Dictionary". University Library System, University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  3. "Pennsylvania". Dictionary of American Regional English. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  4. "D". Dictionary of American Regional English. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  5. Sodergren, Rebecca (July 3, 2012). "Ex-Pittsburghers are hungry for Pittsburgh". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  6. "Barbara Johnstone, Professor of English and Linguistics". Department of English, Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Potter, Chris (June 27, 2012). "Let Us Now Praise Famous Jagoffs - The latest chapter for a misunderstood word". Pittsburgh City Paper. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  8. "Pirates Q&A with Dejan Kovacevic". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. March 16, 2012. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  9. Vancheri, Barbara (July 3, 2012). "'Unstoppable' delivers high-octane action and suspense". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  10. Owen, Rob (March 26, 2012). "Tuned In: 'SNL' speaks Pittsburghese 'n'at". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  11. "Fetterman responds to Trump's call for Muslim ban by calling...". WPXI. Retrieved 2015-12-08.
  12. "Donald Trump: Ban all Muslim travel to U.S. - CNNPolitics.com". CNN. Retrieved 2015-12-08.
  13. http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2016-07-31/mark-cuban-calls-trump-jagoff-as-he-makes-debut-for-clinton
  14. Miller, Mike (January 25, 2010). "Calipari's term of endearment". NBC News. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  15. "There's nothing but (censored) everywhere we look". The Beaver County Times. June 30, 2012. Archived from the original on August 5, 2012. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
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