Leslie Scott was a British game designer born in the then-colony of Tanzania and then brought up in various African countries. She later moved to Oxford and started making a new children's activity based off the concept of stacking wooden blocks, which she debuted in 1983 at the London Toy Fair. This game she called Jenga, and it went on to be an iconic part of our childhoods. But why Jenga? What does that name even mean? It all goes back to Scott's aforementioned upbringing in Africa. She and her siblings used hardwood blocks to stack them as high as they could without falling, and that's the underlying notion behind her game, too. Since Africa inspired her, Scott wanted to use an African word for its name, and she settled on the Swahili word jenga, meaning "to build" or "to construct". When the American version came out, owner Hasbro changed the slogan "the perpetual challenge" to "the ultimate challenge" because they were afraid Americans wouldn't know what perpetual meant, and they wanted to change the name as well, but Scott wouldn't let them and that was that.
Adam Aleksic is a 220-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd