‘I had to tell my mum not to say that as it means something else’
Words don’t always mean what people think they mean. Just look at this Twitter conversation
My nan once told me, “your mum’s out philandering”. She meant ‘gallivanting’. Photograph: Getty Images
The Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan would be delighted if not perhaps surprised to learn that the malapropism, a word inspired by his character Mrs Malaprop in his 1775 play, The Rivals, to describe a similar sounding word misused to comic effect, is still alive and well and entertaining people on Twitter.
Sheridan sadly did not come up with a character – let us call her Mrs Jizz – who made a habit of uttering words whose meaning has over the course of a generation or two changed from innocent to lewd.
These twin strands came together this week in an entertaining Twitter thread, which started off with this revelation by @punchedmonet_
“My mam said the words ‘jizzing on’ as in she meant ‘egging on’ and I had to tell her not to say that cus it means something else and she was like what!!! but honestly I don’t know how she invents these things.”
Similarly, @miscfionn recalled: my art teacher in secondary school used to always tell us to “jizz things up a bit”.
(It is not the first time this has happened. Gerry Adams raised eyebrows and made headlines back in 2017 when he told the Dáil he would miss Enda Kenny’s “jizz” when the latter stepped down as taoiseach.)
The confusion of jazz and jizz is perhaps not so surprising as not only do they sound the same but they may also come from the same source, the slightly archaic word jism, meaning spirit or semen. The etymology of the word jazz is unclear but one way or another it seems to come back to sex, as per this Cambridge Dictionary blog article, Jazz is a four-letter word.
It is fair to say that things went downhill from there.
Darach Ó Séaghdha (@darachos), author of Motherfoclóir: and Craic Baby, chipped in with a few gems of his own.
My Mam says that someone is “doing a line” meaning they’re going out with someone. Not a cocaine user.
We had a teacher who thought “hunk” meant “big eejit”.
“Get back here, you hunk!”, he’d say.
“I’m surrounded by hunks and losing my mind!” was another.
Let’s not forget the young one who was really looking forward to a blowie after work before meeting her fella. She thought that’s what a blow dry was called
Jack Fennell (@JFennellAuthor), author of Irish Science Fiction and editor of A Brilliant Void, chipped in with: My father went through a mercifully short phase of calling silly young women “dildos.”
In a desperate attempt to raise the tone, I then tweeted:
My ancient English teacher once described a character in a novel we were studying as “full of spunk”; a junior relative once described the process of using the tannin in tea to age a treasure map for a school project as “teabagging”.
The same teacher beat the head off a pupil for spelling Bible with a lower case b & hit another for misspelling grammar! “A grammar school boy who can’t spell grammar!”
Poet Ian Duhig (@ianduhig) observed:
Joan Margarit’s selected poems translated as ‘Tugs in the Fog’ attracts a very different audience in London.
Charlie Connelly (@charlieconnelly), author of most recently Last Train to Hilversum, tweeted: My nan once told me, “your mum’s out philandering”. She meant ‘gallivanting’.
Writer Ruth McKee (@RuthMcKee) shared: Saying ‘god, I’m so thick’ when I do something idiotic, teen gives me a look which says, er, I don’t *think* so
Here are a few more of the best of the rest.
When I was 22, I went to Amsterdam for a weekend with my mam. In advance of the trip, I asked her if there was anything she wanted to do and she said “I don’t know - stick my finger in a dyke?”
My husband’s granny would ask her kids or grandkids (about their other halves) “Is he a good screw?” meaning does he have money?
My father, to my utter mortification, once kept referring to my mum’s incense as “incest”.
Worked on building sites back in the ‘90’s. The aulfellas from down the country used to talk about “riding the apprentices”. “Did you ride him hard?” “Oh, I rode the arse off him!” They meant giving him a tough time.
My mam used to regularly call people twats to their faces, she honestly thought twat and twit were interchangeable
Now cringing remembering the time wee teenage me announced to colleagues that I was ‘ravished’.
My mum used to say “make love to” for steal, e.g. “Make sure your name’s on your gutties or someone’ll make love to them.”
And last but not least, from two of my colleagues, Rachel and Orna:
My friend’s mum used to offer us “a nice wedgie” when she meant (potato) wedges
My late grandmother had the unfortunate habit of confusing “neurotic” and “erotic”... By her own admission there was a lot she was erotic about
My mother with her northern roots continues to call children little faggots when they are misbehaving