Before jo and after jobsworth

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The Independent Online
WHEN discussing dictionaries yesterday, I left one very important question unanswered: what is 'jizz'? Well, I can tell you now. 'Jizz' is the word your eye alights on when you are actually meant to be looking up 'jo'. And, conversely, 'jo' is the word you find yourself reading about when you had fully intended to look up 'jizz'. This is one of the two main ways of learning new words - looking one up and getting sidetracked.

So it came to pass yesterday that while looking up 'jo' I found, right above it, 'jizz'. And it means, I am told by all available dictionaries, the total combination of characteristic features distinguishing one bird from another.

To the ornithologist this must come as no surprise. Presumably bird-watchers are always saying to each other: 'What kind of a jizz does it have?' or, 'It's got a kind of unshaven jizz compared to a kestrel' or even, 'Its jizz is more turdine than anything.'

'Turdine' is a word I picked up a year ago when looking up 'turgid'. I can't remember the meaning of 'turgid', but I clearly remember being struck by 'turdine', and how delighted I was to find it meant 'appertaining to a thrush'. If only, I thought, I get a chance to use it.

I never did, of course. I had to drag it into this article just to get it into print. And I doubt if I shall ever use jizz, either. The best I can imagine is seeing myself standing at the bar, in the middle of a conversation about some unidentified bird or flower, and me asking: 'What kind of jizz are we talking about?', and there being an embarrassed silence or somebody

saying: 'Well, we weren't actually talking about jazz at all.'

Well, none of this settles the other big question, which is: 'OK, if 'jizz' is the obscure word directly above 'jo' in most dictionaries, what is the one below it, wise guy?' and the answer is 'jobsworth'.

Jobsworth is much used by musicians to refer to commissionaires and doormen and the kind of people who say: 'It's more than my job's worth'. I am amazed at how many people don't know the word - eight times out of ten when I use it, the people I am talking to ask me to explain it, which makes me feel like a fool or an Anthony Burgess reader.

Ah, I forgot to tell you. That's the other main way of picking up new words. Reading an Anthony Burgess novel. You just read the novel, writing down all the words you don't know and then look them up. I did that once and started using words such as 'brewis' and 'supinate' and 'euplastic', and people started avoiding me. When I was down to my last few friends, I gave up using such words and I have gradually been increasing my circle of friends again ever since.

Well, since you ask, 'brewis' is a thin soup, and to 'supinate' is to turn your hand palm upwards, and I don't remember what 'euplastic' means. Hold on. Not in Cassell's. Not in Chambers. Ah - Collins has it. 'Euplastic: healing quickly and well.' One up to Collins, there. One down to Collins, though, because it does not have 'euphobia', which the other two do. It means 'fear of good news'. Gosh. Who suffers from that? Apart from a jobsworth?

Which reminds me that I also looked up 'jo' in the Concise Scots Dictionary, which makes sense as it is a Scottish word, and that dictionary does not have 'jizz' and 'jobsworth' above and below 'jo'. What it has is 'jizzen', which is a childbed (no, I'm not sure what a childbed is either) and below it has 'job', which has nothing to do with work but can either mean to have illicit sexual intercourse or to stab or pierce. Hence, it says, 'jobbie nettle' for stinging nettle.

Well, there doesn't seem to be any such thing as illicit intercourse these days - it's been replaced by unsafe sex - but nettles are still with us, and I am severely tempted to go around calling them jobbie nettles.

I used to have doubts about my Concise Scots Dictionary, wondering if these words were ever used, but since I found 'fankle' and 'timeous' in the Scotsman last week, I have been encouraged. I thought at first that 'timeous' was a misprint for 'timorous', but I looked it up and it wasn't - it's the Scots word for 'timely, in good time'.

So that's your Christmas competition for this year: either to make up a sentence containing the words brewis, jizz, euplastic, timeous and jobsworth or to slip the word 'turdine' into your conversation over the Christmas period, using it correctly and not frightening anyone. Good luck]