"Bollocks" // is a word of Anglo-Saxon origin, meaning "testicles". The word is often used figuratively in British English and Hiberno-English, as a noun to mean "nonsense", an expletive following a minor accident or misfortune, or an adjective to mean "poor quality" or "useless". Similarly, the common phrases "Bollocks to this!" or "That's a load of old bollocks" generally indicate contempt for a certain task, subject or opinion. Conversely, the word also figures in idiomatic phrases such as "the dog's bollocks", "top bollock(s)", or more simply "the bollocks" (as opposed to just "bollocks"), which will refer to something which is admired, approved of or well-respected.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Severity
- 3 Negative uses
- 3.1 "Talking bollocks" and "Bollockspeak"
- 3.2 A "bollocks" (singular noun)
- 3.3 Bollocks (transitive verb)
- 3.4 To "drop a bollock"
- 3.5 Bollocking
- 3.6 "A kick in the bollocks"
- 3.7 "Bollock cold", "freeze (or work) one's bollocks off"
- 3.8 "Bollock naked"
- 3.9 Bollocks (singular noun)
- 3.10 "Bollocksed"
- 4 Positive uses
- 5 Other uses
- 6 Humour
- 7 Literature
- 8 Obscenity court ruling
- 9 See also
- 10 References
The word has a long and distinguished history, with the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) giving examples of its usage dating back to the 13th century. One of the early references is John Wycliffe bible (1382), Leviticus xxii, 24: "Al beeste, that ... kitt and taken a wey the ballokes is, ye shulen not offre to the Lord..." (any beast that is cut and taken away the bollocks, you shall not offer to the Lord, i.e. castrated animals are not suitable as sacrifices).
The OED states (with abbreviations expanded): "Probably a derivative of Teutonic ball-, of which the Old English representative would be inferred as beall-u, -a, or -e".
From the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, bollocks or ballocks was allegedly used as a slang term for a clergyman, although this meaning is not mentioned by the OED's 1989 edition. For example, in 1864, the Commanding Officer of the Straits Fleet regularly referred to his chaplain as "Ballocks". It has been suggested that bollocks came to have its modern meaning of "nonsense" because clergymen were notorious for talking nonsense during their sermons.
Originally, the word "bollocks" was the everyday vernacular word for testicles—as noted above, it was used in this sense in the first English-language bible, in the 14th century. By the mid-seventeenth century, at least, it had begun to acquire coarse figurative meanings (see section on "bollocking"), for example in a translation of works by Rabelais.
It did not appear in Samuel Johnson's 1755 dictionary of the English language. It was also omitted from the 1933 Oxford English Dictionary and its 1941 reprint, finally appearing in the 1972 supplement. The first modern English dictionary to include an entry for the bollocks was G. N. Garmonsway's Penguin English Dictionary of 1965.
The relative severity of the various profanities, as perceived by the British public, was studied on behalf of the Broadcasting Standards Commission, Independent Television Commission, BBC and Advertising Standards Authority. The results of this jointly commissioned research were published in December 2000 in a paper called "Delete Expletives?". This placed "bollocks" in eighth position in terms of its perceived severity, between "prick" (seventh place) and "arsehole" (ninth place). By comparison, the word "balls" (which has some similar meanings) was down in 22nd place. Of the people surveyed, 25% thought that "bollocks" should not be broadcast at all, and only 11% thought that it could acceptably be broadcast at times before the national 9 pm "watershed" on television (radio does not have a watershed). 25% of the people regarded "bollocks" as "very severe", 32% "quite severe", 34% "mild" and 8% considered it "not swearing".
A survey of the language of London teenagers (published in 2002) examined, amongst other things, the incidence of various swearwords in their speech. It noted that the top ten swearwords make up 81% of the total swearwords. "Bollocks" was the seventh most frequent swearword, after "fucking", "shit", "fuck", "bloody", "hell" and "fuck off". Below "Bollocks", were "bastard", "bitch" and "damn", in eighth, ninth and tenth places. This research regarded these words as swearwords in the context of their usage but noted that some might be inoffensive in other contexts.
"Talking bollocks" and "Bollockspeak"
"Talking bollocks" generally means talking nonsense or bullshit, for example: "Don't listen to him, he's talking bollocks", or "...talking absolute bollocks". Another example is "I told Maurice that he was talking bollocks, that he was full of shit and that his opinions were a pile of piss. (Rhetoric was always my indulgence.)" "Talking bollocks" in a corporate context is referred to as bollockspeak. Bollockspeak tends to be buzzword-laden and largely content-free, like gobbledygook: "Rupert, we'll have to leverage our synergies to facilitate a paradigm shift by Q4" is an example of management bollockspeak. There is a whole parodic book entitled The Little Book of Management Bollocks. When a great deal of bollocks is being spoken, it may be said that the 'bollocks quotient' is high.
The word "bollocks" first appeared in the international science journal Nature in 1998 where it was reported by Professor Kemp as an asinine reaction of a science PhD student (Dr Magnus Johnson) to Nature's publication of photographs of navel fluff depicted as art. Dr Johnson was later thanked by Professor Kemp for his rounded views.
A "bollocks" (singular noun)
Comparable to cock-up, screw-up, balls-up, etc. Used with the indefinite article, it means a disaster, a mess or a failure. It is often used pejoratively, as in to have "made a bollocks out of it", and it is generally used throughout Britain and Ireland.
Bollocks (transitive verb)
To bollocks something up means "to mess something up". It refers to a botched job: "Well, you bollocksed it up that time, Your Majesty!" or "Bollocksed up at work again, I fear. Millions down the drain".
To "drop a bollock"
To "drop a bollock" describes the malfunction of an operation, or messing something up, as in many sports, and in more polite business parlance, dropping the ball brings play to an unscheduled halt.
A "bollocking" usually denotes a robust verbal chastisement for something which one has done (or not done, as the case may be), for instance: "I didn't do my homework and got a right bollocking off Mr Smith", or "A nurse was assisting at an appendix operation when she shouldn't have been...and the surgeon got a bollocking". Actively, one gives or delivers a bollocking to someone; in the building trade one can 'throw a right bollocking into' someone.
Originally, a bollocking was a serious assault, and the term comes from the bollock dagger, popular between the 13th and 18th centuries. There may be some connection also with the roll-lock, a form of Sliding knife, given the euphemistic term rollock or rollocking (see below).
The Oxford English Dictionary gives the earliest meaning as "to slander or defame" and suggests that it entered the English language from the 1653 translation of one of Rabelais' works, which includes the Middle French expression "en couilletant", translated as "ballocking". The earliest printed use in the sense of a severe reprimand is, according to the OED, from 1946.
Bollocking can also be used as a reinforcing adjective: "He hasn't a bollocking clue!" or "Where's me bollocking car?"
"A kick in the bollocks"
"A kick in the bollocks" is used to describe a significant set-back or disappointment, e.g. "I was diagnosed with having skin cancer. Ye Gods! What a kick in the bollocks".
"Bollock cold", "freeze (or work) one's bollocks off"
However, bollock cold means very cold indeed. "It's bollock cold outside". To "work ones bollocks off" is to work very hard. This phrase is sometimes used by or about women: Boy George referred to his mother "working her bollocks off" at home.
"Bollock naked" is used in the singular form to describe being in the nude: "he was completely pissed and stark bollock naked".
Bollocks (singular noun)
In Ireland, "bollocks", "ballocks" or "bollox" can be used as a singular noun to mean a despicable or notorious person, for instance: "Who's the old ballocks you were talking to?", or conversely as a very informal term of endearment: "Ah Ted, ye big bollocks, let's go and have a pint!". In Dublin it can be spelled "Bollix".
Multiple meanings, also spelled "bolloxed" or "bollixed":
- Exhausted: "I couldn't sleep at all last night, I'm completely bollocksed!"
- Broken: "My foot pump is bollocksed."
- An extreme state of inebriation or drug-induced stupor: "Last night I got completely bollocksed".
- Hungover (or equivalent): "I drank two bottles of gin last night, I'm completely bollocksed".
- Made a mistake: "I tried to draw that landscape, but I bollocksed it up".
A usage with a positive (albeit still vulgar) sense is "the dog's bollocks". An example of this usage is: "Before Tony Blair's speech, a chap near me growled: ‘He thinks he's the dog's bollocks’. Well, he's entitled to. It was a commanding speech: a real dog's bollocks of an oration".
- Etymologist Eric Partridge and the Oxford English Dictionary believe the term comes from the now obsolete typographical sequence of a colon and a dash;
- Another theory suggests it is a compound word of very early 1900s Meccano sets called "box, deluxe", in much the same way that their "box, standard" set name was corrupted to "bog standard". However, this explanation is not currently supported by evidence.
- "The dog's bollocks" fits in with several reduplications of positive meaning which were popular during the 1920s ("the bee's knees", "the cat's pajamas").
- Another explanation is that the thing in question is "outstanding" like the stated canine's testicles.
"Top bollock" is used as a superlative, for example: "This beer is top bollock".
"Chuffed to one's bollocks"
The phrase "chuffed to one's bollocks" describes someone who is very pleased with himself. Nobel laureate Harold Pinter used this in The Homecoming The phrase provided a serious challenge to translators of his work. Pinter used a similar phrase in an open letter, published in The Guardian, and addressed to Prime Minister Tony Blair, attacking his co-operation with American foreign policy. The letter ends by saying "Oh, by the way, meant to mention, forgot to tell you, we were all chuffed to the bollocks when Labour won the election".
- "Bollock-head" is a vulgar British term for a shaven head. It can also refer to someone who is stupid, as can "bollock-brain". The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811) cites the expression "His brains are in his ballocks", to designate a fool.
- During the 1990s, a craze of shouting "bollocks!" swept through UK festivals, for example the Reading and Leeds festivals.
The rhyming slang for bollocks is "Jackson Pollocks". It can be shortened to Jackson's, as in "Modern art? Pile o' Jacksons if you ask me!". Sandra Bullocks is occasionally used to approximate rhyming slang; it does not quite rhyme, but preserves meter and rhythm. The Beautiful South bowdlerised their original line "sweaty bollocks" as "Sandra Bullocks", as one of several changes to make their song "Don't Marry Her" acceptable for mainstream radio play. In Ireland the rhyming slang for bollocks is "Roger Trollocks", named after a Kildare landlord during the Famine who boasted of his ability to feed the entire country with a new system of crop planting.
The term "Horlicks" was brought to prominence in July 2003, when then-British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw used it to describe irregularities in the preparation and provenance of the "dodgy dossier" regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Straw used the expression "a complete Horlicks", instead of the more impolite "make a complete bollocks of something". This euphemism stems from an advertising campaign for the Horlicks malt drink, where people were seen to be shouting "Horlicks!" in a loud voice, to give vent to stress or frustration. Eric Morecambe was also known to cough "Horlicks!" behind his hand on The Morecambe and Wise Show.
The 2007 Concise new Partridge dictionary of slang and unconventional English quotes "bollards" as meaning "testicles" and that it is a play on the word bollocks.
There is a strand of British humour which uses words that sound similar to "bollocks", or other slang words for testicles, for comic effect. A good example would be "In Sarajevo in 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was shot in the Balkans". In Richard E Grant's memoir With Nails, the actor tells of going to the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He notes that this is the place where "Robert Kennedy was shot in the kitchens. Sorry – kitchens sounds like a euphemism for bollocks. He was killed here."
The play Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery, published in 1684 and ascribed to John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, includes a character named Bolloxinion, King of Sodom (along with other characters with names such as General Buggeranthos and the maid of honour, Fuckadilla). The word bollox appears several times in the text, such as:
- "Had all mankind, whose pintles I adore,
- With well fill'd bollox swiv'd me o'er and o'er.
- None could in nature have oblig'd me more."
In 1690, the publisher Benjamin Crayle was fined 20 pounds and sent to prison for his part in publishing the play.
- "But now my spirit is broken and my tricks are gone from me, so alas! are my ballocks."
Obscenity court ruling
Perhaps the best-known use of the term is in the title of the 1977 punk rock album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. Testimony in a resulting prosecution over the term demonstrated that in Old English, the word referred to a priest, and could also be used to mean "nonsense". Defence barrister John Mortimer QC and Virgin Records won the case: the court ruled that the word was not obscene.
Tony Wright, a Leicestershire trader, was given an £80 fixed penalty fine by police for selling T-shirts bearing the slogan "Bollocks to Blair". This took place on 29 June 2006 at the Royal Norfolk Show; the police issued the penalty notice, quoting Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 which refers to language "deemed to cause harassment, alarm or distress".
Commentators[who?] have made comparisons with the Sex Pistols case, pointing to some of the statements made by John Mortimer QC: "What sort of country are we living in if a politician comes to Nottingham and speaks here to a group of people in the city centre and, during his speech, a heckler replies "bollocks". Are we to expect this person to be incarcerated, or do we live in a country where we are proud of our Anglo-Saxon language?".
|Look up bollocks or testicles in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
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