Monday, 1 March 2010

A Hole Lot Of Misunderstandings

Over the last few months I can’t seem to escape glory holes. Wondering around Amsterdam’s Red Light District as part of a tour, our guide asks if anyone knows what one is. I have been brought up with the phrase bandied around and two of my friends house shopping recently struggled to stifle amused giggles when a well-spoken lady showed them around her house pointing out the glory hole. I half wish my mum had been present to confidently explain to the tour group what a glory hole is.

It seems to me that many misunderstandings are the result of conflicting generational understanding; word meaning extension; contextual confusion; a gap in cultural knowledge; under-exposure to the word/phrase and sometimes just plain stupidity, like the story of the girl at a party who was told bread would soak up alcohol so drunk just as much but inserted a slice of bread into her mouth each time that she swallowed a mouthful and spat out the alcohol soaked bread afterwards, only to repeat the whole futile cycle for the duration of the party.

Hearing the tale of my mum’s friend going to a Chippendale’s show, innocently believing it to be a furniture exhibition, or that Sadler’s Wells Theatre supposedly once booked Spandau Ballet, thinking they were a dance act and that someone interpreted the acronym BTW as “Before the War” thoroughly tickles me.

I thrive on lexical nuances and word creation, experiencing a geeky form of exaltation when I hear new blends in use – edutaining and bro-mance/bromcom are two favourites. I often find myself accidentally creating new blends, like the sports journalist who recently slipped up when discussing John Terry’s well-publicised sordid actions as “interfected”, combining interfered and intersect.

So to put you out of your misery, in the eyes of the dapper lady trying to sell her house and my mother, what are glory holes? Wikipedia would tell us that a glory hole can be:

  1. (Name is thought to originate from Mining) A hole in a mineshaft where an orebody is mined upwards until it breaks through the surface into the open air.

a) A deep mine shaft.

b) An open-pit mine.

  1. (Slang, sexual) A hole in a screen or wall big enough to allow an erect penis to be stuck through, made to have anonymous sex with another person. Glory holes are often found in public toilets and are likely to be used for gay male activities.

  1. (Slang) A military trench.

  1. (Glassblowing) A hole in the side of a furnace used to heat glass held on a metal rod.

  2. (Naval slang in the merchant and Royal Navy):

      1. In the navy this refers to a place for general untidiness.

      2. On passenger liners the Stewards' mess is referred to as the 'glory hole'

      3. On coal-burning tramp steamers, the stokehold was referred to as the 'glory hole'.

So it would seem that even the mighty wikipedia doesn’t cover the full range of meanings. The initial thoughts of my two friends trying to hide their laughter was of the kind of glory holes found in a toilet cubicle or one of the many slang words used to describe the anus, while the lady showing them around was most likely using naval slang to refer to a cupboard to untidily throw things into that have no obvious home to make the house look tidier for visitors.

So perhaps it can be concluded that sometimes misunderstandings and misinterpretations are also dependent on the field of reference, occupation of conversational participants and the degree of how dirty the mind is of each person involved in the conversation.

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