Every now and then the playback needle in my brain skips a groove and ends up on a different track altogether. (And if you don’t understand that reference, you’re probably too young to be reading my blog.)
When the needle skips, it’s as though I’m a foreigner looking at our language for the first time. Words I’ve used for decades suddenly look weird and unfamiliar, and I feel compelled to discover their origin. And if I stare at a word too long, no matter how familiar it is I’ll begin to question whether I’ve spelled it correctly – it looks wrong no matter how I rearrange the letters.
That happened to me earlier this week, and I’m hoping it’s only because the last couple of weeks have been immensely stressful: It’s the usual craziness of releasing a book plus a spate of family illnesses and deaths, all in addition to the never-ending gong show that is our house construction.
At least, I’m hoping it’s only the stress that’s making my brain twist. But even if my word-weirdness is the harbinger of some dire malady, at least I’m getting a chuckle out of the symptoms.
The phrase “He’s holding his own” is meant to indicate that someone is holding up under pressure and not requiring the help of others. But whenever I hear that expression my mind immediately demands, “Holding his own what?” Which is quickly followed by, “I hope he washes his hands afterward.”
In the same vein, ‘He knows how to handle himself’ is also supposed to be an admiring comment, but you can probably guess where my brain goes with that. (I wrote ‘he knows how to handle himself’ in Kiss And Say Good Spy; and I admit I was grinning when I did it.) Whenever I hear or read that phrase I wonder whether it’s being used as a compliment or a filthy innuendo.
…And don’t even get me started about the word ‘innuendo’. To me it sounds like The Godfather describing a kinky sex act: “In-u-end-o!”
‘Feckless’ makes me giggle, too. The online dictionary tells me it’s derived from the Scottish word ‘feck’, which means ‘effect’; therefore ‘feckless’ means ‘useless, incompetent, ineffective’. I always think of ‘feck’ as an Irish expletive, so in my mind ‘feckless’ should mean ‘not giving a feck’. E.g. “I’ve been doing this stupid job for so long I’m feckless about it.” Or “If he fell off the face of the earth, I’d be feckless”.
‘Gormless’ is an intrinsically funny word. Unlike the others, it doesn’t remind me of any other word (except maybe ‘worm’) but even if I’d never heard it before, I think I’d still identify it as an insult. Like ‘flaccid’, ‘gormless’ is a word whose sound suits its meaning perfectly.
And speaking of the way words sound, I have to smother a smile when anybody says ‘Doing his/her duty’, too. Unless the speaker enunciates very clearly, I hear ‘doing his/her doody’… which is another thing entirely. (Please pass the toilet paper.)
What word or phrase never fails to make you snicker?