Jizz or giss is a term originally used by birdwatchers to describe the overall impression or appearance of a bird garnered from such features as shape, posture, flying style or other habitual movements, size and colouration combined with voice, habitat and location. The concept is so useful however, that it since has been adopted increasingly widely by field biologists in referring to the impression of the general characteristics of other animals. It similarly appears in such fields of observational biology as microscopy. Ecologists and botanists may speak of "habitat jizz" or the jizz of a plant.
Sean Dooley described jizz as "the indefinable quality of a particular species, the 'vibe' it gives off" and notes that although it is "dismissed by many as some kind of birding alchemy, there is some physical basis to the idea of jizz."
Experienced birders can often make reliable identifications in the field at a glance by using jizz. Often jizz is useful for identifying to the family or genus level, rather than the species level. For example, "It definitely had the jizz of a thrush, but I couldn't see what kind."
The term was first used in print in 1922, in Thomas Coward's "Country Diary" column for the Manchester Guardian of 6 December 1921 – the piece was subsequently included in his 1922 book Bird Haunts and Nature Memories. He attributed it to "a west-coast Irishman", and explained:
If we are walking on the road and see, far ahead, someone whom we recognise although we can neither distinguish features nor particular clothes, we may be certain that we are not mistaken; there is something in the carriage, the walk, the general appearance which is familiar; it is, in fact, the individual's jizz.
There is a theory that it comes from the World War II air force acronym GISS for "General Impression of Size and Shape (of an aircraft)", but the use of the term in 1922 precludes that. Another theory claims that jizz is a corruption of gestalt, a German word that roughly means form or shape. Other possibilities include the word gist, or a contraction of just is. These theories were debunked by Greenwood and Greenwood in 2018.
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- Texas Park and Wildlife Department – Project Prairie Birds – JIZZ Descriptions and Alpha Codes for Selected Species
- uk.rec.birdwtching FAQ – What is jizz and where does the word come from?
- McDonald, D 1996, 'The etymology of jizz', Canberra Bird Notes, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 2–11.