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July 4, 2005 11:41 AM   Subscribe

The Origins and Common Usage of British Swear-words.
posted by nthdegx (47 comments total)

 
Bunch of bollocks!
posted by Mr Bluesky at 11:46 AM on July 4, 2005


Also see: "English-to-American Dictionary."
posted by ericb at 11:50 AM on July 4, 2005


I like how they still starred out all the words containing F**K.
posted by Balisong at 12:01 PM on July 4, 2005


and C**T and W**KER.
posted by Balisong at 12:04 PM on July 4, 2005


"London boasted districts called 'Gropecunte Lane'...
Records do not show whether it was a decision of intentional irony that eventually placed the Bank of England there."


arf!
posted by NinjaPirate at 12:10 PM on July 4, 2005


'The dog's bollocks' is often gentrified as 'the mutt's nuts'?!? Well, I guess you DO learn something new everyday.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 12:29 PM on July 4, 2005


Finally I get to know why 'mickey' in 'take the mickey'. I would have never guessed that. In fact, I'm wondering if they're not taking the mickey.
posted by funambulist at 12:34 PM on July 4, 2005


I suppose here would be a good place for the obligatory link to Roger's Profanisaurus.
posted by salmacis at 12:37 PM on July 4, 2005


Treat everything there with large helpings of salt.

A phrase that, until recently, was almost exclusively American, is 'mother-f****r'. Despite sounding very Oedipal, this does not have Freudian derivations. The word was apparently coined by African slaves to describe the slave owners who had raped the slave's mothers. Simple as that.

Source, please? Because none of my references says anything resembling this, and quite frankly it smells like bovine manure.

Also:

The Marquis of Queensbury was the father of Wilde's young lover Bosie, and in a rage he accused Wilde on paper of being a 'Somodite'(so not only was he narrow-minded, he couldn't spell either).


The Marquis's note read: "To Oscar Wilde posing as a Somdomite." Sic, motherfuckers.
posted by languagehat at 12:40 PM on July 4, 2005


So, if you're going to write something talking about swearing, why censor everything?
posted by taursir at 12:53 PM on July 4, 2005


I'd be very interested to hear what you have to add to those particular examples, languagehat.

That is only two out of many more examples, though. A lot of the information is consistent with other documents I've read on the subject. Pointing out shortcomings in the text is very helpful, but to say "treat everything there with large helpings of salt" as a conclusion is misleading and an exageration.

It's like any other historical document: it should be handled with caution. On a subject as inherently hazy as English etymology innacuracies in any document of length are to be expected. One innacuracy does not call into question every other assertion. This isn't mathematics. This document is far from useless.
posted by nthdegx at 1:04 PM on July 4, 2005


Fun read. thanks!
lanuagehat is proven teh suck (you smdomoite)
posted by nj_subgenius at 1:29 PM on July 4, 2005


I've always liked the phrases "It's monkeys out." or "Monkeys, innit?" or "Freeze yer monkeys off." ...taken from the phrase "It's cold enough to freeze the balls off of a brass monkey."
A variation of this can be found in Squeeze's song "Up the Junction" ('...the weather brass and bitter.')
I've no idea where the original comes from, but I like the amount of variation that can come out of one simple figure-of-speech.
posted by Zack_Replica at 2:14 PM on July 4, 2005


Freeze the balls off a brass monkey was in here during the last few days.

IIRC, the Cannon balls on the British ships were stacked on a brass plate with circular indentations on it, called a monkey, and if it got too cold, the plate shrank and the cannon balls rolled off.

I leave as a trivial exercise for the reader to find it; it was within the last week or two ago.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 2:30 PM on July 4, 2005


Well, that link was the dog's bollocks!

There is a story in Oxford that one of the religious societies in England's oldest university was the Cambridge University New Testament Society

LOL... I'm not surprised they would say that in Oxford!
posted by clevershark at 2:30 PM on July 4, 2005


I liked this article, though I was burned on the pluck yew story, so while I am enjoying it, I am also a tad skeptical.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:35 PM on July 4, 2005


That "motherf*cker" explanation doesn't seem to hold water. Most likely it was just Lenny Bruce trying to be extra-offensive.
posted by clevershark at 2:36 PM on July 4, 2005


OK, I mis-remember.

Apparently, this is some mere rumor, and wherever I saw it, it probably wasn't here.

My bad.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 2:44 PM on July 4, 2005


No prob on that.... I went searching MeFi and couldn't find it, so I went to other places and found this on London Slang and it seems the 'brass monkeys' definition is wrong/mistaken all over. Oh well, I suppose... it's got a nice ring to it anyways...
posted by Zack_Replica at 3:11 PM on July 4, 2005


How is it that the English write so much more amusingly than anyone else, and with seemingly less effort. I find such dry wit excrutiatingly entertaining. My piths off to you, nthdegx
posted by johngumbo at 3:20 PM on July 4, 2005


That is only two out of many more examples, though.

So? How many do I have to refute before you'll decide maybe the article isn't very trustworthy? If you go to a math site and they say pi = 3.5 and the square root of 2 is 4, are you going to patiently calculate all their other values on the off chance some of them might be right?

A lot of the information is consistent with other documents I've read on the subject.


Yeah, there's a lot of crap out there.

Pointing out shortcomings in the text is very helpful, but to say "treat everything there with large helpings of salt" as a conclusion is misleading and an exageration.


No it's not. I'm not saying the article isn't fun to read, but it's not based on linguistic science, and neither are the "other documents [you]'ve read on the subject." I loved the movie JFK, but I sure wouldn't treat it as a history lesson.
posted by languagehat at 3:34 PM on July 4, 2005


languagehat : how is it you know what other sources nthdegx has read, out of interest?
posted by kaemaril at 3:54 PM on July 4, 2005


Mr Bluesky: I believe the collective noun of Bollocks is load rather than bunch. I think you'll find it's a load of bollocks.

It is, however, a bunch of arse.
posted by Grangousier at 4:06 PM on July 4, 2005


It's worth pointing out that, in true cockernee fashion, "dog's" often gets omitted from "the dog's bollocks".

"That curry was the bollocks" = good
"That curry was bollocks" = bad
posted by influx at 4:15 PM on July 4, 2005


An uncle of mine has a habit of using "wotsits" instead of "bollocks"*, so he'll often exclaim that something or other is the dog's wotsits ...

Of course, since there's also a brand of crisps/savourity snacks called "Wotsits" in the UK, the first time we heard that there was much merriment.

* I assume that this is not unique to him...
posted by kaemaril at 4:28 PM on July 4, 2005


> 'The dog's bollocks' is often gentrified as 'the mutt's nuts'?!

Alternatively, 'the poodle's testicles'.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:28 PM on July 4, 2005


Evidently chicken town.

possible origins of the dogs bollocks. (via earlier metachat post)
posted by seanyboy at 4:38 PM on July 4, 2005


I'm with languagehat on this one. Much of it is entertaining, and plenty of it is accurate, give or take, but the alarm bells started ringing when the author said that "naff" has "[i]n recent years ... come into gay parlance to disparagingly refer to heterosexuals - standing for 'not a f***ing fairy'." Anyone versed in polari [dictionary here] (the mangled, polyglot argot used by tinkers, fairground workers, and travellers, which eventually mutated into a form of coded language used by British gay men as a means of talking openly but in secret, which is also where camp – an acronym for Known as Male Prostitute – comes from) is able to tell you that naff originally came from "not available for fucking" – ie he's straight, and therefore not just rubbish but useless.
posted by Len at 5:25 PM on July 4, 2005


They're a bit off on usages of "the c word" as well. It may be taboo in the UK media, but is used much more freely verbally than in the US. (English and Irish arrivals to the US tend to learn this the hard way, after they playfully refer to their new pal as a stupid cunt and recieve a shocked glare in return.)

They also missed the other famous usage in Shakespeare...in Twelth Night, "...her c's, her u's and her t's..."
posted by desuetude at 5:32 PM on July 4, 2005


Len, camp is most likely from the French 'camper.' I don't know about 'naff,' but I have yet to see a slang term that is actually derived from an acronym. Although it seems to be a common strategy for folk etymology, that is generally not how language works. Unfortunately because words for the lower and higher bodily functions are generally coined on street corners and back alleys their precise origins tend to be murky and obscure.

Languagehat is not exaggerating when he says to take this with salt. Every reference to the Latin language given in that article is misleading, riddled with errors, or simply unlikely and undocumented. The most egregious example:

"[cunt] has Germanic cognates including old Norse (kunta), middle-Dutch (Kunte) and possibly High German (Kotze meaning prostitute), which all point to a pre-historic germanic ancestor kunton. A Latin word, Kuntus, meaning wedge, might also have been an influence."

There is no Latin word 'kuntus' (Latin words beginning with the letter 'k' can be counted on one hand). Perhaps the author means 'contus' which is the same as the greek 'kontos.' Unfortunately that word does not mean 'wedge,' but 'pole' or 'pike.' I won't say it is impossible, but I would be interested in seeing a word go from meaning pike to being a synonym for vagina. The word for wedge is 'cuneus,' but why even bother with that when there is a Latin word 'cunnus,' which has the same meaning as our 'cunt.' But why pass on misinformation when there are the obvious cognates in more closely related languages that the author has already mentioned. Btw, cunnus doesn't seem to be etymologically related to cunt either, but it seems likely that the two words became conflated and thus it is very difficult to tell the root of the 18th and 19th century 'cunny.'

My guess is that all these mistakes are the result of doing research online from people's webpages, rather than out of the OED, or other legitimate source. I would like to also recommend J.N. Adams' The Latin Sexual Vocabulary for anyone interested in scholarly talk about filthy words in Greek and Latin and to a lesser degree our own language. Now fully searchable on google!!!
posted by mokujin at 6:40 PM on July 4, 2005


mokujin - Thanks for the research, and thanks for the link! Time to impress the ...er. ..pants off of some friends.
With my knowledge. yes.
posted by Zack_Replica at 7:32 PM on July 4, 2005


I so love the mefi logophiles. This is my favorite thread in awhile.
posted by frecklefaerie at 8:19 PM on July 4, 2005


Too f*****g annoying to read with all those d**n elisions. If they have to traipse around such language, they probably shouldn't be publishing an article like that in the first place.

Besides, the only Americans I ever heard say "butt-naked" were illiterate doofi who confused it with the proper "buck-naked".
posted by RavinDave at 9:31 PM on July 4, 2005


RavinDave writes "Besides, the only Americans I ever heard say 'butt-naked' were illiterate doofi who confused it with the proper 'buck-naked'."

Funny, I thought the same thing as I was reading the article.
posted by clevershark at 9:46 PM on July 4, 2005


Results 1 - 10 of about 97,700 for "buck naked"
Results 1 - 10 of about 232,000 for "butt naked"
posted by mosch at 10:08 PM on July 4, 2005


All that proves is that the doofi outnumber people with normal hearing. ;)

"Buck naked" was a wildly popular catch-phrase in the early 80's, thanks largely to "Hill Street Blues" and the reoccuring exhibitionist character "Buck" I am NOT suggesting this as the source; it was in the language much, MUCH longer than that -- but it was pretty ingrained in the popular vernacular by that. Contrast that to "butt-naked". I don't recall hearing a single instance of that until the very late 80's (ie: butt-nekkid volleyball, etc.); I'd be genuinely surprised if you can uncover one. My tentative conclusion is that the latter was a corruption of the former by someone who didn't quite catch (or understand) the original. All this is fine, of course. That's how languages grow. Use whichever variant you wish.

//nb: those who know my linguistic views know that I am very slow to call anything in SAE "proper" and that I typed my original comment with a bit of whimsy. I consider "buck" proper only in the sense that it was on the scene first (imho).
posted by RavinDave at 10:49 PM on July 4, 2005


I think people are confusing and conflating "buck naked" and "butt ugly".
posted by cali at 11:55 PM on July 4, 2005


languagehat, I could equally say that the grammatical errors in your first post are reason to disregard the opinions stated. I won't, because to do that would be ridiculous. Your retort once again slips into the insulting and patronising as is your wont. I am not questioning your sources, simply your logic. You have not offered any more evidence -- which would really bring something to the thread -- but instead bring the veiled insults. You got better at this for a while, but I think you once more need to check yourself.

Perhaps my sources on how to conduct oneself on the internet are "a lot of crap" compared to yours, but on evidence thus far I'd have to wonder. I'd wonder further what use it is knowing so much about language if you only use it to talk down to people. Saying every source I've read on etymology is "a lot of crap" is not only insulting, it's so unfounded as to be beyond a joke.
posted by nthdegx at 12:01 AM on July 5, 2005


nthdegx : "You have not offered any more evidence"

I think languagehat isn't presenting any more evidence because, from his point of view, the damning evidence is already on the table. From his perspective, it's like bringing out a videotape of a person killing someone, and the gun with their fingerprints on it, and being countered with "Bring out more evidence".

I'm not saying I agree or disagree with languagehat, but if you believe the evidence on the table is insufficient, and he believes it is, there isn't really an issue of who is wrong or right, or who needs to bring out more evidence, it's a fundamental disagreement about how much doubt and misinformation casts suspicion on a source's validity.

I'd say a few minor mistakes would be inconsequential, but it only really takes one major mistake to throw a source's validity into doubt. Saying Christopher Columbus sailed to America in 1249, for example, would me a minor mistake (probably just a typo of 1492), while if a book said Christopher Columbus was bankrolled by Ralph Nader, I'd be pretty willing to take the entire book with a shaker of salt, regardless of how many other things in the book seemed like they made sense.

And taking things with salt doesn't mean discounting them as untrue, it means keeping in mind that their veracity may be in question.
posted by Bugbread at 12:16 AM on July 5, 2005


languagehat : how is it you know what other sources nthdegx has read, out of interest?

I don't. But I know they're wrong, because he says they're consistent with this one. And nthdegx, if you get so bent out of shape over "Treat everything there with large helpings of salt," you must not spend much time here on the internet. Your best move, when you discover you've been quoting a source shown to be sadly deficient, is to back down gracefully and try to find a better one, not to get all belligerent and start hollering about "how to conduct oneself on the internet" and "talking down to people." Did you read what mokujin wrote? Do you think he's making shit up out of some perverse desire to insult you in cahoots with me? Face it, you posted an inaccurate source, and all I did was point out its inaccuracy. If you want to stamp your feet and whine about it, I can't stop you, but it doesn't make you look good. (I must admit, though, that I'm curious to know what you think "the grammatical errors in [my] first post" are, and I'd be obliged if you'll tell me. I could use a good laugh.)

Also, what bugbread said.
posted by languagehat at 6:26 AM on July 5, 2005


Their bollocks are bollocks and all. Bollock as a contraction of the nautical term "bullock-block"? This isn't even a case of having to abandon the interweb and go back to the books: just about every source online gives you the Old English/Norse beallucas --> Middle English balloks --> ballocks, bollocks and bollix. Always meaning testicles, and mostly preceding the invention of the bullock-block. That bullock-blocks got contracted to bollocks shouldn't be surprising; sailors, after all, were never particularly averse to giving mundane objects obscene names (see also, cunt-splice).

Even just a little common sense could help - exactly what route would the word have to take from meaning a pulley block in the topsail yards (in the 1800s) to meaning testicles today? It's like Woody Allen's "To 'take it on the lam' meant to put on feathers and later, to escape, although the transition is unclear."
posted by flashboy at 7:56 AM on July 5, 2005


"'Smeg' is a word that has only come into common usage as a swear-word since 1988 after it was popularised by the BBC science fiction sitcom Red Dwarf."

When I was in junior school (well before 1988) this was a word already in common usage and amusing to pre-teen boys in North London. Red Dwarf merely made it acceptable to say on the BBC.
posted by normy at 9:08 AM on July 5, 2005


languagehat, I'm not bent out of shape by anything in your first post. I find logical fault with it, and I said so. The minute anyone questions you on anything you adopt this ridiculous posturing. It was in your second post that you became very rude -- as you have continued to be in your third post -- "I could use a good laugh". Do you honestly have no idea how obnoxious you come across? Do you think I am the only one that notices? And you really think I look bad in this thread? The worst I can be is wrong, and I'm wrong a lot so that isn't news to anyone -- and even if I'm wrong about everything I've said I don't think it really compares to the way you deal with other people consistently at MetaFilter. I'm not stamping my feet. I'm not whining. I'm just saying you always play the man, and not the ball. You still haven't addressed any single issue specifically so I fail to see why I should take the trouble to answer your questions, especially when you put them the way you do. Bad show, languagehat. You haven't even stopped to consider if I *might* have a point, yet, have you?

And I would love to have known what you had to offer concerning the points you raised initially, too. Too bad.
posted by nthdegx at 11:11 AM on July 5, 2005


I just reread my second post, and I don't find anything "rude" in it. I repeated my negative judgment on the accuracy of your source and said there was no point providing more examples because if two wasn't enough, no amount would be. This is borne out by the fact that although others have provided further examples, you continue to take this position. As for "I could use a good laugh," if you're going to make futile attempts to impugn someone else's grammar (and I note that you haven't provided even one example), you can't expect to be treated kindly.

You still haven't addressed any single issue specifically

What the hell are you talking about? I started out with two clear mistakes (if that's what you mean by "issue"), and you haven't denied their inaccuracy. I have no "issues" other than the fact that the source you link is untrustworthy, and the fact that I commented on that is not in any way an attack on you but is meant to warn others not to trust what the site says. I don't expect others to be able to tell true from false when it comes to these things, so I don't think the less of you for taking it on faith. I do, however, think the less of you for your activity since then.

You haven't even stopped to consider if I *might* have a point, yet, have you?


Sure you do. Your point is that I'm not being nice to you. Reread your comments and ask yourself if perhaps I have a "point." I "play the man" only when the man is being a jerk. I started off by playing the ball: your source was wrong. I said so, you didn't like it, end of story.
posted by languagehat at 11:36 AM on July 5, 2005


As an aside, I just want to throw in a plug for my favorite scholarly journal.
posted by infidelpants at 12:10 PM on July 5, 2005


flashboy writes "exactly what route would the word have to take from meaning a pulley block in the topsail yards (in the 1800s) to meaning testicles today?"

That's pretty easy actually -- both are roundish, hanging things.
posted by clevershark at 9:56 PM on July 5, 2005


I grew up in New Zealand, with even helpings of Brit and American slang. Stuff like this almost makes me feel bilingual :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 5:55 PM on July 6, 2005


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