Words for the Week: J


Hello again, folks! Welcome to another episode of Words for the Week, which happens every Sunday. I have so many books full of great words, and I so rarely have an excuse to delve into them. So I’m putting together a small selection of these lovely words once a week, in the hope that you enjoy them as much as I do. This week’s words begin with ‘J’.

Jaculiferous (adjective): Having spiky, arrow-like prickles.

The thing I love about this entry is that there’s no more explanation than that. Are we talking about cacti? Hedgehogs? Those aliens in the Titanic Christmas episode of Doctor Who? Who knows? Basically, anything spiky, you can refer to as ‘jaculiferous‘.

Jim-jams (noun): 1. A state of nervousness or febrile excitement; 2. (slang) delirium tremens; (colloquial) pyjamas.

Everyone knows that jim-jams are pyjamas, right? (Incidentally, I’d be very interested in any colloquial pyjama words you know – tell me in comments!) Anyway, I did not know that it also means excitement – which does pave the way for some delightfully wilful misunderstandings.

Janjansy (adjective or noun): Cornwall. A two-faced person. Adaptation of ‘Janus’, the Roman deity who guarded doors and gates, who was represented with two faces – one on the front and one on the back of his head.

I mean, we all know the basics of the history topic, right? Romans invade Britain, the Celts kick them up the arse in the bits they live in, fundamentally shaping the UK today, Romans leave, minus some good buildings and roads. So it makes sense that some Roman words and ideas – probably quite a lot, actually – would have made it into British language and culture. I do especially like this one, for its adoption of a Roman god into a very pleasing dialect word.

Jubbity (noun): Yorkshire. A difficulty, vexatious occurrence, misfortune. ‘He’s had some jubbities in his lifetime’. The spelling hides the relationship with jeopardy. Trouble in general is jubberment, and sometimes jubblement.

I suppose it is mostly a fairly shallow corruption of the word ‘jeopardy’, but I think it’s cool. It sounds more sympathetic than jeopardy, anyway, which has always to me had an air of smugness about it – though don’t ask me to explain why!

Jayus (noun or adjective): Indonesian. A joke so unfunny you have to laugh. Can describe both the joke and the teller. Belongs originally to the informal language of Indonesia, bahasa gaul.

We’ve all needed a word for this forever. Dad jokes are included in this word, and also awkward, forced-jollity teacher jokes.

This week’s words were sourced from Foyle’s Philavery, collected by Christopher Foyle; The Greeks Had A Word For It by Andrew Taylor; The Disappearing Dictionary by David Crystal.

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