— Met him what? he asked. — Here, she said. What does that mean? He leaned downward and read near her polished thumbnail. — Metempsychosis? — Yes. Who’s he when he’s at home? — Metempsychosis, he said, frowning. It’s Greek:from the Greek. That means the transmigration of souls. — O, rocks! she said. Tell us in plain words.

Which is from Joyce's book,Ulysses.

Does it mean?——something that threatens or causes disaster—often used in plural.

Does it mean difficulties,especially comparing with "plain"?

  • i found that the translations are weird, I want some confirmation from native speakers... Sep 6, 2022 at 12:30
  • 3
    Joyce's use of words is famously strange, but this looks to me like a random word used as an expletive (an exclamation of annoyance). Sep 6, 2022 at 13:10
  • 2
    @KateBunting - often seen in Irish material, especially where Joyce is involved, and has been called "Molly Bloom's favourite expression" Sep 6, 2022 at 13:29
  • @KateBunting I found that rocks means testis too. Nov 19, 2022 at 13:38

1 Answer 1


Joyce's use of English is highly varied and sometimes quite strange, but as the comment by Kate Bunting indicates this seems to be a simple expletive, in which an ordinary word is sued as an expression of annoyance, rather than a profanity or blasphemy that many people might use in such a situation.

I remember in several of the stories of Saki the word "Rats" is used in a similar way, In particular in "Tobermory" a character thinks but does not say "Rats" and the narrator refers to them as "Those rodents of disbelief".

As the comment by
Michael Harvey points out, the expression "Oh Rocks" is frequently used by the charactere Molly Bloom. In "James Joyce's concept of the underthought: a reflection on some similarities with the work of Wittgenstein" by Mike Harding the author writes:

I still regard Joyce as the greatest creative novelist, but after having logged on to various websites to see the current state of Joycean play, I logged off fairly swiftly with Molly Bloom's favourite expression in mind: Oh, Rocks!

I would mention that both older usages, intentional wordplay, and the assumptions that the reader knows classical, biblical, and other literature, make Joyce a sometimes confusing author for any modern reader, and particularly for a learner.

  • thank you for citing the details.Does Mike Harding mean the novel, Ulysses is not so great as people think ? I feel a little boring too, but as I have read about 4 chapters, something compels me to finish it. I think people love the story style more ,as the evolution make them so. Sep 9, 2022 at 10:24
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    @William I think he means the recent critical comments on the novel, but I am not sure. In any case that is very much a matter of opinion. Sep 9, 2022 at 14:14
  • This is a "minced oath", but remember this chapter is known as "Calypso". And Molly is playing the role of the sea-witch that has captured Ulysses on her island...
    – James K
    Sep 12, 2022 at 20:06
  • I always think of a "minced oath" as something that suggests the original, like "darn" for "Damn" or "frick" or "fudge" for "fuck". But perhaps any substitute expletive counts. Sep 12, 2022 at 21:59
  • I found that rocks means testis too. Nov 19, 2022 at 13:38

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