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July 13, 2009 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

A Whole New Kettle of Fish

My flatmate asked me “Is she spoken for?”, referring to “Is she single?”. The interpretation of this was that said woman had a partner that spoke for her. Basic, I know, but have you ever heard a common phrase and overlooked it until one day unexpectedly you hear it like hearing it for the first time? You dissect it and have a new perspective of its definition, as though you’ve been oblivious to its meaning until a new angle hits you. “Is she spoken for?” seemed to trigger an unexpected snarl within me as to assume that the woman had a man or woman in her life that speaks for her. The simplicity of this passing comment pissed me off. Does my partner speak for me? Fuck no! Does anybody’s? (Christopher Reeve was a possible exception.) Credit to my flatmate, I don’t think he saw the phrase as meaningful as I did—he certainly doesn’t view relationships like that of a battle for spokesperson ship (my laptop tried to automatically correct that to spokesman ship…interesting). ‘Spoken for’ is defined by some free online dictionary as being ‘taken; reserved for’. Having a speaker of the relationship reminds me of the infamous scenes of ‘Once were warriors’; does this vision come to mind for other people when they hear “Is she spoken for?”, or am I merely a raving dyke feminist overanalysing slang? I am publicly announcing my deletion of ‘spoken for’ from my vocabulary. This critique of a remark led me to question, how often do I personally use terms or remarks that possibly have an alternative meaning? Shit, I could be offending people… or worse, I could me making a prat of myself in everyday conversations. I recorded the colloquial phrases I heard myself say and began my endeavour of finding their origins to decide whether I was using them appropriately.

Knuckle down—meaning work hard, get ‘stuck into it’. Refers to the game marbles, when flicking the marble by the thumb you must have a bent index finger, and knuckles flat down on the ground. This was a regulation for the game, showing commitment and playing fair. The term “for keeps” also originates from this game, reflecting ownership to the winner. (Note to self: ‘knuckle down’ seems like an appropriate comment to make, however, don’t use ‘for keeps’, it went out in the 90s with Power Rangers and Tazos.)

Up the duff—meaning she’s pregnant. This term is first noted in English literature in the 1940s when referring to male masturbation as ‘pulling the pudding’, which shows relation to a pregnancy being ‘a woman in the pudding club’. The term duff originates from the word dough, linking back to the pudding. So women who were with child were coined as being ‘in the pudding club’, or ‘up the duff’. (Note to self: Seems to have a credible meaning, but Grandma and her Scrabble buddy give me ‘that look’ when I say this.)

Cock and bull—meaning fictional stories or exaggerations. The Famous Cock Hotel and The InnFamous Bull are two hostelries in North of England that still exist today. Their rivalry and fight for guests began the stories each shared of another, growing with exaggeration through time, not fooling the travellers, simply dubbing the term of good old cock ‘n’ bull. Ok…so that history is cock ‘n’ bull, there are only myths of the term’s origin, surrounding the translation of rooster to jackass. Robert Burton coined the term ‘cock and bull’ stories in 1621 The Anatomy of Melancholy, ask him.

I propose this to the editors…give me a weekly piece to analyse our everyday language…respect to Langdon, I won’t touch teh grammerz. I’ll explore the depths of culture and history to bring original symbolism to our everyday phrases.

Yada yada, loose cannons enjoy fifteen minutes of fame, I want a piece of the action, I don’t wanna jump your disco stick, I wanna be your boy. Float my boat and I’m your mutt’s nuts, walking the walk, being your ear candy.

Hope the pigeon doesn’t shit on this.


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  1. Mikey says:

    That’s right, you’d better stay away from teh grammerz.

  2. kj says:

    they’re all yours mikey :)

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