The sea is as still as gel in a Petri dish. A small boat moves idly along, mills about, sending smooth, even ripples in the glassy surface: |||| . It is on a booze cruise, perhaps, hopping from half-pint in one port to half-pint in another, or perhaps it can’t even be bothered to do as much as that. It’s just some lad and lass on it, and one of them cleans a fish and both have a glass of white wine to sharpen the appetite. And still the little swells follow, breaking up a bit from |||| into jill.
Jill? Without a capital j: jill. A verb for a boat moving idly about. It may come from the verb gill, pronounced the same, which in its time referred to doing a pub-crawl with just a small drink at each, or perhaps to having a little bit of white wine before dinner – so Oxford tells me. That comes from the liquid measure gill (same pronunciation again) equalling a quarter pint (thus a half cup, which is four ounces, eight tablespoons, or two dozen teaspoons).
But then there is another verb jill, a variant of gill meaning ‘clean a fish’. And of course there is the noun jill meaning ‘girlfriend’ or ‘sweetheart’, taken from the name Jill, as in Jack and Jill. There are other more recent uses (noun and verb) of Jill too, as female parallels to uses of Jack; some of them are about as impolite as their Jack counterparts.
The name Jill is usually short for Gillian (or the same with a J) or – dictionary.com tells me – Juliana. But just by itself, in its ripple shape on the page and its jarred liquid sound in the mouth, it stands apart a bit. And it has some associations for me, of course, as it likely does for most people. It’s a name just common enough that a person may know one or two Jills, just enough to give a clear character. The first Jill I knew, as a pre-teen, was a girl a bit older than me, daughter of some family friends; she had blonde hair and seemed a paragon of sensible prettiness. The second Jill I knew, in high school, was also, come to think of it, a blonde paragon of sensible prettiness. There was a third I knew, briefly, in university, a tall ash blonde from England, elegant, sensible, pretty. You see a pattern. (I haven’t met any new Jills lately, though.)
What has this to do with moving idly about, drinking in half-cups, and gutting fish? Hmm… Jill-squat, probably, other than coincidence. But can’t you picture some lucky Jack spending a pleasant afternoon with a sensible pretty blonde jill (named Jill or not) lolling in a boat jilling about on a jelly sea? It almost makes me jillous.