Bloody is the adjectival form of blood but may also be used as an expletive attributive (intensifier) in Australia, Britain, Ireland, Canada, South East Asia, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka. Nowadays it is considered (by most of the population of these countries) to be a very mild expletive, and unlikely to cause offence in most circles.


Some say it may be derived from the phrase "by Our Lady", a sacrilegious invocation of the Virgin Mary. The abbreviated form "By'r Lady" is common in Shakespeare's plays around the turn of the 17th century, and interestingly Jonathan Swift about 100 years later writes both "it grows by'r Lady cold" and "it was bloody hot walking to-day" suggesting that a transition from one to the other could have been under way. Others regard this explanation as dubious. Eric Partridge, in Words, Words, Words (Methuen, 1933), describes this as "phonetically implausible". Geoffrey Hughes in Swearing: A social history of foul language, oaths and profanity in English (Blackwell, 1991), points out that "by my lady" is not an adjective whereas "bloody" is, and suggests that the slang use of the term started with "bloody drunk" meaning "fired up and ready for a fight".

It has been said, however, that the offensive use of the word first came up during the Wars of Roses when Royalty and nobility that is all those "of the blood" (meaning blue-blooded descendants of Charlemagne) wrought death and the most bloody destruction on England. Elizabeth I is also supposed to have used it when referring to her elder Sister, Mary due to her persecution of Protestants. Another thought is that it simply comes from a reference to blood, a view that Eric Partridge prefers. However, this overlooks the considerable strength of social and religious pressure in past centuries to avoid profanity. This resulted in the appearance or slang appropriation of words that in some cases appear to bear little relation to their source: "Crikey" for "Christ"; "Gee" for "Jesus"; "Heck" for "Hell"; "Gosh" for "God"; "dash", "dang" or "darn" for "damn" (though it bears noting that "darn" is a legitimate verb in its own right, and did not originate as a minced oath, despite the fact that its original meaning is now somewhat obscure and that it is most often heard as a slang euphemism for "damn" with the same apparent meaning of "to curse" as an antonym to the verb "salve"). These, too, might be considered implausible etymologies if looked at only from the point of view of phonetics. Given the context in which it is used, as well as the evidence of Swift's writing, the possibility that "bloody" is also a minced oath (or more precisely, a slang usage of an otherwise legitimate word masquerading as a minced oath, like "darn") cannot be lightly dismissed. The suggestion that it originated as a reference to Jesus "bleeding" on the cross is compelling for its shock value, callousness and sacrilegious intent, just as the Irish, and those of the diaspora, will exclaim "suffering Jesus" in response to something shocking.


Although in the 1600s the word appeared to be relatively innocuous, after about 1750 the word assumed more profane connotations in the UK and British Empire. Various substitutions were devised to convey the essence of the oath, but with less offence; these included "bleeding", "blinking", "blooming" and "ruddy".

On the opening night of George Bernard Shaw's comedy Pygmalion in 1914, Mrs Patrick Campbell, in the role of Eliza Doolittle, created a sensation with the line "Walk! Not bloody likely!" and this led to a fad for using "Pygmalion" itself as a pseudo-oath, as in "Not Pygmalion likely".

The use of bloody in adult UK broadcasting aroused controversy in the 1960s & 1970s but is now unremarkable (for comparison, in the Harry Potter movies, which are geared towards children, the character Ron says "bloody hell" many times in all the movies).

Usage outside of the UK

Bloody has always been a very common part of Australian speech and has not been considered profane there for some time. The word was dubbed "the Australian adjective" by The Bulletin on 18 August 1894. One Australian performer has even made it his middle name, to show how Australian he is - Kevin Bloody Wilson. In the 1940s an Australian divorce court judge held that "the word bloody is so common in modern parlance that it is not regarded as swearing". Meanwhile, Neville Chamberlain's government was fining Britons for using the word in public. The use of "bloody" as an intensifier used to be considered highly offensive in India.

The word as an expletive is seldom used in the USA. However, in Canada, it is much more commonly used, and not considered a major profanity. In the USA it is sometimes used to imitate or ridicule the British. The term "bloody murder" (usually in reference to a particularly loud scream or yell) is also in common use, without any connection with the British usage. The term is usually used when the intention is to mimick an Englishman, though there are some who have adopted it from the British as an everyday term. The term however can sometimes be seen in an American movie or TV episode. For example, in Episode One, Series One of 1987 TV series "Tour of Duty", an American infantry officer whose outpost is under attack, is seen screaming down the phone, "where the bloody hell are you?", attempting to get air support for a napalm attack.

There is also "Bloody hell", often pronounced "Bloody 'ell," which can mean "Damn it," or be used as a general expression of surprise or as a general intensifier. It is talked about in a poem about the letter H (aitch)-

Letter aitch, in some tongues, you can tell,
Is pronounced not at all, or not well.
By the Brits it is rated
Their second-most hated,
Right after, of course, "bloody ell."

In March 2006 Australia's national tourism commission launched an advertising campaign targeted at potential visitors in several English-speaking countries. The ad sparked a surprise controversy because of its ending (in which a cheerful, bikini-clad spokeswoman delivers the ad's call-to-action by saying " where the bloody hell are you?"). Initially, the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre (BACC) required that a modified version of the ad be shown in the United Kingdom, without the word "bloody". However, in May 2006, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that the word "bloody" was not an inappropriate marketing tool and the original version of the ad was permitted to air.

In Malaysia and to a certain extent Singapore, the word bloody is commonly used as an expletive. One example is "bloody bastard" which has been transformed into a more polite word, "bloody-basket" or "blardi-basket" in Manglish, the colloquial version of the English language as spoken in Malaysia. Other examples include "Wah!! Damn bloody hot!", usually a reference to the unimaginably hot weather in Malaysia, even for the locals.

Euphemisms for bloody

Publications such as newspapers, police reports, and so on may print b__y instead of the full profanity. A spoken language equivalent is blankety or, less frequently, blanked or blanky; the spoken words are all variations of blank, which, as a verbal representation of a dash, is used as a euphemism for a variety of bad words.


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