Macaronic Empties

Today, I hit my first spinning juji gatame in live rolling. The immediate double bonus points such an event applies to BJJ’s regular endorphin rewards were slowly overtaken by a creeping nausea.  I hate spinning juji gatames, and not because until very recently my attempts to land them have involved spinning with less grace than drunk minor-league figure skaters. I hate them because spinning is an incredibly poor adjective for juji gatame, as the two terms are not from the same language (or language family. Or alphabet system.)

First, let me offer a definition: macaronic, per Merriam Webster, means “characterized by a mixture of two languages.” I am not against macaronic language per se; I do however feel that, like mixing ice cream flavors, it must be done with great care and circumspection. The brash smashing together of terms that has become the norm in Jiu Jitsu is disrespectful of the beauty of both source languages and of the potential of macaronic wordplay. Let the wrestlers grunt out ungainly combinations of signifiers; such quasi-linguistic noise is unbecoming of an art as elegant as ours.


It is hard to give an example of true macaronic wit, as it depends upon author and reader sharing a common fluency in at least two languages, and the days when all educated people spoke Latin are gone. Most of us, however, can count to five in French, which makes the following tired joke my most appropriate demonstration:

Two cats, an English cat named one-two-three, and a French cat named un-deux-trois, decide to have a race, swimming across the English Channel. What was the result?

Un-deux-trois cat sank.

Clever or not, the joke at least performs the basic function of macaronic language, which is to communicate two meanings to its reader using one word (“cat” is both the animal and the number 4). “Juji” on the other hand, conveys exactly zero meanings to the average BJJ practitioner. This is bad enough on its own, but when we tie it to the rich heritage of macaronic double entendres we set up an expectation that makes its failure worse. Indeed, if our ignorance of Japanese makes “juji” jibberish, that fact is worsened by promising wit where there is only jibberish. Why did the chicken cross the road? Juji.

There is no official term for these blatant linguistic fails, and I am writing here to propose one: macaronic empties (to point out that this can be mispronounced as cheesy pun would only worsen the offense). Macaronic language is meant for witticisms, and macaronic expressions that don’t convey one are empty. These nothing-terms hiding in the shell of a linguistic trope are empty in the way submissions you throw up but are not really trying to finish are empty. They are poor technique for the tongue and, like any other kind of poor technique, if we let ourselves get away with them in casual practice we will lose the ability to do them right when it counts.

You might still ask why you should care. You might still ask why this in a BJJ magazine. And then it hits you:

“Brazillian Jiu Jitsu” is a macaronic empty.

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