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A particularly erudite thesaurus may offer you in its place the verbs rebuke, scold, tell-off, lambast, censure, give a piece of one’s mind, read the Riot Act, criticise, take to task, haul over the coals, or some dozens more — such is the size of our vocabulary when it comes to giving somebody an earful.

Jobation may have been an academic joke. At least, it turns up in A Collection of College Words and Customs, an obscure American work of 1856 by Benjamin Homer Hall. He defined the word thus: “At the University of Cambridge, England, a sharp reprimand from the Dean for some offence, not eminently heinous.” The Oxbridge connection may be supported by its appearance five years later in Tom Brown at Oxford, Thomas Hughes’s sequel to Tom Brown’s Schooldays: “Don’t be angry at my jobation; but write me a long answer of your own free will.”

The recently revised entry in the Oxford English Dictionary online counters that it is more likely to be an English colloquial or regional term. Since it is recorded in Admiral Smyth’s Sailor’s Word-Book of 1867, in which he says it is like a cabin-lecture, a private but severe reprimand, we must accept the colloquial part. In the speech of some English regions it has appeared as jawbation, a neat version that evokes extended exertion of the mouth muscles in castigation.

The origin is biblical, from the Old Testament book of Job. You may recall that the poor man was much troubled by sanctimonious friends who reproved him at length. From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, to job or to jobe was to harangue somebody about their personal failings.

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Page created 19 Jan 2013