MUNDANE MYSTERIES: What Does “Just Joshing You” Mean?

If anyone’s ever tried to give you a false answer to an earnest question, they may have followed up their response with “I’m just joshing ya!”  But who is this Josh fellow, and why do folks invoke his name when trying to pull the wool over our eyes?

The phrase “just joshing you” arose out of the late 1800’s & all began with a man by the name of Josh Tatum, a deaf mute, yet very enterprising, American man from the Midwest. In 1883 the US Mint came out with a new nickel, deemed the Liberty Head Nickel. On one side it had a large roman numeral V stamped on it. What it didn’t have stamped on it were the words “cents” or “nickel”. Well, Josh Tatum noticed that, along with the fact that it was nearly the same size as the US $5 gold piece, which, at the time, was common currency. So, with the help of a friend who was familiar in gold electroplating, Josh turned the Liberty Head Nickel coins, which were worth 5 cents, into replicas of the $5 coin. Josh went on to use his counterfeited $5 coins at stores & shops around his part of the country. Though, he was very careful not to purchase anything that cost more than a nickel. Usually the clerk would accept the coin, and in most instances would give Josh back $4.95 in change, which Josh would happily would take. By the time law enforcement eventually caught on & caught up to him, Josh had visited hundreds of towns & had amassed a small fortune. Authorities tried to prosecute him, but he ended up being found not guilty on the most serious charges, primarily because he’d only purchased items that totaled 5 cents. But also because, since he was unable to hear or speak as a deaf mute American, he’d never misrepresented the coins presented as $5.00 gold pieces.

But the government learned its lesson and, later that same year, the US mint added the word “cents” to the Liberty Head Nickle in order to bring that type of fraud to a halt. In the aftermath of Josh’s caper, anytime someone would get caught in a harmless lie the famous saying became commonplace: “Ah, I’m just Joshing you”!

If you’ve got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved, I promise I won’t be joshing you with its answer. Send it to me in an email: [email protected].

BROUGHT TO YOU BY: Berryville Graphics