One Question Quiz
Confetti falling kissing couple enjoying New Year celebration

SocietyFebruary 21, 2019

In defence of pashing

Confetti falling kissing couple enjoying New Year celebration

‘Kissing’, ‘necking’, ‘snogging’, ‘making out’ – there are a plethora of ways to describe the locking of lips. But Elle Hunt’s favourite is one that’s deeply unique to the Kiwi vocabulary. 

After a year and a half in London, my accent is increasingly English, my standards for flat whites have plummeted, and I’ve come to see any personal line of inquiry (“So did you get here by train?”) as unforgivably rude. I’ve even started eating, with some regularity, boxed sandwiches bought from a pharmacy – a decision that would’ve struck me as strange and misguided just 18 months ago.

In many ways – the confused, non-specific dismay I can convey over Brexit, my careful study of weather conditions – I can pass for a born-and-bred Briton. But get me started on a workplace-inappropriate conversation and I quickly betray my antipodean roots. Recall, refer to, or suggest (on more than one regrettably memorable case) a pash, and I’m met with confused silence.

Pash. Third-person singular simple present: pashes; present participle: pashing; simple past and past participle: pashed.

Australia, New Zealand slang: To passionately kiss.

Though it seems reasonable to assume that it derives from that adverb, its origins are opaque. Playwright Roger Hall claimed in his autobiography, Bums on Seats, to have been introduced to it on arriving in New Zealand from England in 1958. Google Trends reveals steady interest in searches for it from 2004 onwards (especially, somewhat sweetly, in “girls pashing”) overwhelmingly from New Zealand. Urban Dictionary first recorded it in 2003 – gratingly as being of Australian origin, despite my definitely having had to explain it there too.

In New Zealand, it’s as close to institutionalised a word can get without being recorded in Hansard (I’ve checked). It’s appeared in headlines (Madonna was papped “pashing Kiwi fan”), in signage (“NO SMOKING OR PASHING”), medical advice (“My Boyfriend Has Stubble And It Is Giving Me Pash Rash”), and even public safety campaigns (from a 2006 ACC campaign: “Friday nights are for pashing, not crashing”). The Herald’s 2010 review of the third Twilight film was headed, “Lots of pashing but no passion”, which also stands as a pretty accurate summation of my love life that same year.

In New Zealand, one could – hypothetically speaking – list “pashing babes” in the description of the Facebook event and everyone would get that it was going to be a sexy party. In England – or, indeed, anywhere else in the world – any reference to it prompts immediate questions, irritatingly encumbering your funny anecdote, fond reminiscence, or polite but firm request.

“We snog,” they inevitably respond, as though doing you a great service. Yes, well, I’ll leave you to it then.

“Snogging” is certainly the equivalent word in the UK. But to my ear, it confers an overabundance of alcohol, saliva, and almost-contemporaneous regret. And I prefer my regret to develop over time.

Snogging is steeped in Smirnoff Blacks, indifference or shame. Pashing is fizzy, flirty, fun – the type of delightful distraction that you’ll look back on fondly, or at least laughingly, come Monday morning. It’s the difference between grimly reaching for the cheapest bottle of sav on the Friday night bottle shop run to get as drunk as you can; and spending the same amount, with the same intent, on Passion Pop – just for the fun of it.

That’s why I’ll continue to use “pash”, even though doing so commits me to telling criminally laboured anecdotes to all but the 12-15 people I’ve already explained it to, in the hopes that it’ll eventually catch on. No other word or phrase that’s commonly used to refer to the recreational exchange of saliva captures, in the same succinct, onomatopoeic way, just how fun it can be.

“Making out” is sort of clinical, like the kind of kissing that that sexy robot Sophia might eventually learn to do. “Necking” suggests disturbing muscular force. And “getting with” is ambiguous, leading to follow-up questions you’d rather not have to ask, especially not in England. Because if inquiring about their commute raises eyebrows, you can only imagine how “Sorry, do you mean penetratively?” goes down.

Keep going!