This conversation is from a tv series, Modern Family, and Manny(boy) comes into a room looking cheerful and talks to his step-father (Jay).

Manny: Hey Jay! Have you noticed a spring in my step?

Jay: Oh, kids say cruel things. That doesn't mean you'll turn out that way.

Manny: (frowning) No. We have something in common. I'm seeing a younger woman.

Jay: How much younger are we talking about?

Manny: 13 months. She makes me feel like a fifth grader again.

I know what "spring in one's step" means - you're walking lightly and it shows your happiness etc. - but I don't understand Jay's remarks following Manny's line. Turn out what way? How has Jay understood Manny's words so that he answers like that?

I mean, I can guess Jay presumed "a spring in my step" to be an insult from one of Manny's peers mocking the way he walks rather than understanding the idiomatic meaning, but I don't understand how Jay understood it. What does "spring" mean here, then? Is it "flexibility"?

I also saw an article saying that the writer of this episode is a lesbian, so there were several gay jokes in it, including this one about the spring in his step, but this just confuses me more. How is it a gay joke? How should I understand this to make it qualify as a gay joke? (I'm not sure if it's relevant, but just so you know, neither Jay nor Manny is gay in this show.)

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    I suspect that more context is needed in order to understand the joke (if there is one).
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 0:44

1 Answer 1


The meaning of "spring in one's step", as Manny used it, is this:

spring in one's step (idiomatic)
enthusiasm, energy or a positive outlook or cheerful attitude.
After her promotion, she carried out her new position with a spring in her step and a contagious smile.

The meaning of "spring" is "jump" or "leap". Someone who has a spring in his step is the opposite of someone who is depressed.

However, Jay has interpreted "spring in my step" to mean that Manny's peers have told him he has a spring in his step because they think he is effeminate, or even homosexual. Manny didn't mean it that way at all, and "spring in my step" is his own phrase, used to mean that he is light-hearted because of his infatuation with a girl. The joke is Jay's misinterpretation, contrasted with Manny's unconcern.

Compare "light in the loafers":

Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang (2d ed.) has only a brief entry, describing the expression as ‘50s American slang and adding that “the image is the stereotyped effeminate male, tripping along.”

The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, which defines it as effeminate or homosexual, lists a series of references for the expression dating from 1967 to 1996.

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    Thank you so much, so are you saying the meaning of the vocab "spring" - jump or leap - stays the same in Jay's interpretation? The meaning of "spring" is the same in both Manny's and Jay's line, but we can interpret the phrase "a spring in one's step" in two different ways, the usual idiomatic meaning (Manny's) and yet another idiomatic one (as in Jay's interpretation), have I understood it right?
    – dbwlsld
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 4:56
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    Yes. The joke is that Jay, an old man, misinterprets Manny's comment to mean that his peers have been saying something insulting to him. Jay hears "spring in my step" as something similar to "light in the loafers". Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 5:01
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    Also phrases like "light footed" = effeminate, were used as slurs. See: definition-of.com/light-footed Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 3:58
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    I think the missing bit (aside from the definition) is the phrasing 'Have you noticed...'. Manny's intent is "I'm behaving differently to normal and I wonder if you have spotted the difference". Jay's interpretation is: "Somebody has said something about me that I haven't heard before and don't think is accurate; what is your opinion on the matter?"
    – mcalex
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 7:25
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    Yeah, there are two jokes here, an overt joke (we both have younger women, Dad, I have a girlfriend who makes me feel like a fifth-grader again, and you have mom, who is much younger than yourself and makes you feel young); and a situational joke, a pun where ('spring in the step' can mean either 'enthusiastically happy', or as a euphemism for being 'gay'. Dad misconstrues the comment to mean that Mannay is worried about his sexual identity, and he tries to reassure his son that cruel comments don't mean much; while Manny tries to reassure his father that the interpretation is wrong. Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 18:40

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