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The etymology of jizz

The etymology of jizz

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Published by David McDonald
Among natural historians, the term 'jizz' refers to the characteristic impression given by an animal, plant, etc., that facilitates it recognition. The term is commonplace among experienced birders who can identify just which species of bird is seen from a glimpse, able to identify it from its jizz - a constellation of characteristics - rather then from individual identification features.

People often ask about the origin of the term. I wrote this paper some years ago to record what I found about its origin.
Among natural historians, the term 'jizz' refers to the characteristic impression given by an animal, plant, etc., that facilitates it recognition. The term is commonplace among experienced birders who can identify just which species of bird is seen from a glimpse, able to identify it from its jizz - a constellation of characteristics - rather then from individual identification features.

People often ask about the origin of the term. I wrote this paper some years ago to record what I found about its origin.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: David McDonald on Jun 08, 2009
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BIRDBASE|BIRDS| >BIRDING|FIELDGUIDE|BIRDMAIL|BIRDYARD
INTRO: What is Jizz?|T.A.Coward on Jizz| Etymology of Jizz |Other Definitions
THE ETYMOLOGY OF JIZZ
 Article 19©96 by David McDonald 
(This article was published in
Canberra Bird Notes
, Vol. 21, No. 1, March 1996, pp. 2-11.
Canberra Bird Notes
is the journal of the Canberra Ornithologists Group, GPO Box 301, CivicSquare, Canberra ACT 2608, Australia. It is reproduced here with the permission of theauthor and publisher.)
The word 'jizz' has been part of the language of birding, in the English-speaking nations, for someyears. To quote some prominent Australian examples, Pizzey's 1983 A Field Guide to the Birds of Australia describes the Rose Robin
 Petroica rosea
as having 'a more flycatcher-like jizz' than other red-breasted robins, and reminds us that the yellow robins have 'a characteristic "jizz" ... theytypically cling sideways low on a vertical trunk or vine ...' (p. 273). The authoritative Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds (Marchant & Higgins 1990) describes the IntermediateEgret
 Ardea intermedia
as having a 'less stocky jizz' than a Cattle Egret
 Ardea ibis
(p. 1017). Theterm was also used in the 1984 Atlas of Australian Birds where the authors referred to '...the essentialcharacteristics or "jizz" of [a] species' (Blakers, Davies & Reilly 1984, p. xxxviii).So what, exactly, do we mean by the term 'jizz' and where does it come from?
Meaning
An article published in 1990 in the Newsletter of the Cumberland Bird Observers Club states that:Jizz is a relatively new addition to the terminology of bird identification and recognition.It is one of the characteristics ... which enables a bird to be recognised instantly...Examples are GANNET -appears large at sea, long neck and wedge-shaped tailimparting distinctive 'pointed at both ends' jizz (Dymond 1990).Contrary to the view of many people that 'jizz' is a slang or jargon term used exclusively and loosely by birders, or one which really belongs in another world such as that of the military, jizz is found in basic references, such as the Handbook referred to above and in ornithological dictionaries. For example, A Dictionary of Birds by Campbell and Lack (1985) defines jizz as: 'A combination of characteristics which identify a living creature in the field, but which may not be distinguishedindividually' (p. 313). The glossary in Simpson and Day's (1993) Field Guide to the Birds of Australia defines jizz as 'A word used by "twitchers" - avid birdwatchers - to describe everythingabout a bird in one, all-embracing term; the essence or "character" of a bird in the field' (p. 379).Although 'jizz' did not appear in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, the second edition
 
(1989, p. 264) provides the following definition: 'The characteristic impression given by an animal or  plant', and this definition is carried across to more readily accessible editions of the OED such as theAustralian Concise Oxford Dictionary.
Origin
Where does 'jizz' come from? Three groups of possibilities are suggested in the literature and theopinions of birders, as follows.
(a) General Impression of Size and Shape - GISS
Dymond (1990) suggested that:'Jizz is a term derived from the fighter pilots' acronym, GIS - General Impression and Shape...'.Harvey (1985) expressed a similar view in correspondence in British Birds, writing:Surely 'jizz' is a corruption of the old Army term 'general impression and shape',used by patrols, guards, and, particularly, coastal/aerial watchers? It is still in usein the US Army at least, and is written 'G.I.S.'.In fact, as evidenced by contributions on this topic distributed on the Internet discussion list Birdchatin 1994, and from a number of personal conversations, the most commonly accepted origin of theword jizz is, as Dymond suggests, a Second World War acronym concerned with the identificationof aircraft, both friendly and enemy. Most commonly, however, jizz is understood to have come notfrom GIS (as Dymond and Harvey suggested) but from GISS, a contraction of General Impression of Size and Shape. This explanation is found throughout the birding literature.Some birders seem convinced of this origin. Mackiernan (1994) is one of these: Nevertheless -- this from RAF person who is a birder -- 'GIZZ' does come fromthe 'general impression, shape and size' rule from aircraft sighting.And I think the Brits tend to be pretty effective gizz (or jizz) birders.Kloot (1995) provides a fuller explanation of GISS:During World War 2, pilots and their crew were briefed as to how to swiftly identifyvarious aircraft, both the enemy's, and their own.In combat there was not time to reach for, and consult a manual, so images of planeswere flashed onto a screen, and the pilots and crew were required to instantly recognisetheir features, contours and size; in fact, to gauge the 'General Impression of Shapeand Size' of every known aircraft. So, General Impression of Shape and Size became 'GISS'.And from 'GISS' came 'Jizz'.
(b)Pre-World War 2 usage in nature studies
A quite different origin from WW2's GISS is found in standard sources. Both Lack and Campbell'sA Dictionary of Birds (1985) and the OED (1989) refer us to a book by a prominent British writer on
 
 birds, T. A. Coward, published in London in 1922, titled Bird Haunts & Nature Memories. This iswhat Coward wrote (as quoted in the OED, p. 246; page numbers in the quotation are references toCoward):A West Coast Irishman was familiar with the wild creatures which dwelt on or visitedhis rocks and shores; at a glance he could name them, usually correctly, but if asked how he knew them would reply 'By their "jizz".' What is jizz?.. We have notcoined it, but how wide its use in Ireland is we cannot say... Jizz may be applied toor possessed by any animate and some inanimate objects, yet we cannot clearly defineit. A single character may supply it, or it may be the combination of many (p. 141).... Jizz, of course, is not confined to birds. The small mammal and the plant alike have jizz (p.143).Here we have evidence that jizz long predated the Second World War. According to Coward, it wasused in the early part of the century, at least on the West Coast of Ireland, with the same meaning wenow give to it in birding and with the same meaning as that captured by the GISS acronym.
(c) Other suggested origins
American correspondent Wallace (1994) had a different view, stating that it comes from the WW2acronym GIS which stood for 'General Identification System'.Litwin (1994) went straight to the point, saying that:... I thought 'jizz' was a contraction from 'just is'.Danca (1994) came from a different angle altogether. He suggested that jizz:... comes from a corrupted shortening of the word 'gestalt' mispronounced with asoft G as in 'jestalt'. The term jestalt has been the common element in defining jizz innearly all the guesses that have appeared [in the 1994 Birdchat discussion].That whole 'general impression of size and shape [or whatever]' origin sounds justtoo neat. It feels like (and probably is) a back-construction from someone who inventedwords to go with what he thought was an acronym. Besides, GISS would be pronounced'jiss', not 'jizz' (or 'gizz'). Folks, I think we have an urban legend here with *this*derivation. I still vote for the 'jestalt' origins.Principe (1994) points to support for the 'gestalt' origin. He reminds us that Danca's view:... is supported by Christopher Leahy in his book (The Birdwatcher's CompanionBonanza Books, 1982). He says 'A distinctive physical "attitude", totally apart fromany specific field mark ... The origin of the term is uncertain; perhaps a corruption of "gestalt"'.('Gestalt' is a term used most commonly in psychology, meaning 'a configuration or figure whoseintegration differs from the totality obtained from summing the parts' (Wolman 1989, p. 146)).Two tasks remain. The first is to find out if GISS, General Impression of Size and Shape, was in factused in WW2. The second task is to find the origin of the West Coast Irishman's word jizz and tocorroborate Coward's explanation.

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