I was called across the office today to arbitrate a point of English. Somebody had received an email about a fairly monotonous task they’d been attempting, asking "did you have any joy with that?" I looked at the email. I looked back at the lady asking me about the email. I asked what was the problem.
"Joy?" she asked, in a tone that suggested she thought her correspondent was taking the piss. It began to dawn on me that not all British colloquialisms exist in Singaporean English.
When you consider it, having joy with a task like reviewing income tax forms, or looking through compost for a lost earring, or cold calling potential insurance customers, is probably quite an odd concept. Success in such things might be met with relief, but not jubilation. Treating language rationally, it would seem a logical conclusion that when somebody asked you if you’d had joy, that they were being highly facetious.
I tried to explain that it just meant "success" but I was met with scepticism. "Joy?" my coworker asked again, now sounding as though she suspected both the person who had written to her, and me, to be co-conspirators in a plot to warp the English language for our own nefarious ends.
I could have done many things at this point. I could have pointed out the myriad ways in which English is apparently internally inconsistent. I could have pointed to the way that the verb "to table" means exactly opposite things in British and American English. I could have adopted a silly accent and denied all knowledge of my mother tongue.
Instead, under the disbelieving eyes of the office, I babbled and dissimilated, trying to come up with a logical explanation of something for which no logical explanation exists.
Perhaps in medieval times, when everyone was busy being covered in manure and dying, achieving something like alphabetizing a series of pamphlets was something to feel great joy about. Maybe there’s some awe inspiring etymological justification for this odd turn of phrase. But there’s no converse question. You wouldn’t ask "did you encounter soulsapping existential gloom?" when you wanted to find out if somebody had failed to mail a parcel on time.