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bollixed

Bollocks

[bol-uhks]
"Bollocks" is a word of Anglo-Saxon origin, meaning "testicles". The word is often used figuratively in British 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" express a distaste for a certain task, subject or opinion. Conversely, the word also figures in idiomatic phrases such as "the dog's bollocks" and "top bollock", which express the opposite, namely admiration, pleasure or approval.

Etymology

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's 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 religious 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".

The Teutonic ball- in turn probably derives from the Proto-Indo-European base *bhel-, to inflate or swell. This base also forms the root of many other words, including "phallus".

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.

In 1977, Professor James Kingsley, a famous linguistics professor at Nottingham University, had accredited the word to be used in the early eighteenth century with the Roman Catholic Church priests. His studies show that the actual word "Bollocks" means either a 'priest', or 'rubbish by the priest'. Often, there were priests in the early eighteenth century who generally spoke rubbish, which is how the term "Bollocks" began to be associated with rubbish. The conviction came from the fact that Professor James Kingsley himself was a reverend and had been doing linguistic history research all his life.

Alternative spellings

"Ballock" is a variation of "bollock", which was in everyday usage in the medieval period, albeit rarely heard today. The connection with "ball" in the sense of "testis" is evident.

The word is sometimes spelled as bollox or bollix, usually in order to make it appear less vulgar. In this case its meaning is "to bungle"; for example, "The project was going well, but my boss bollixed it up". This is the sense in which the term "bollix" is generally used in American English, where the term "bollocks" is generally known only from the title of the Sex Pistols album, and its original meaning is almost unknown. "Bollixed up" is sometimes considered an out-of-date expression which has largely been replaced by phrases such as "screwed up," as the latter term has gradually lost most of its previously vulgar connotation. This spelling remains current in Ireland, however; for instance, in the phrase "You're a bollix" (fool or unpleasant person).

"Bollix" may also be used to refer to a particularly nasty or awkward person, particularly in rural Ireland, as in "He's a right Bollix, is that father Ted" or in the traditional sense, referring to testicles (as in standard English)"Ah Jaze!! right in me bollix!".

A modern folk etymology claims that the correct singular of the word should not be "bollock", but rather "pillock", commonly used as another British English insult (though usually without the testis connotation, and it is not officially considered a swear word). However, it appears that this is erroneous, and that the two words are connected only by similarities in the spelling. Both "pillock" and "cock" are probably shortened forms of the Middle English "pillicock", a slang term for "penis".

Severity

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, positioning it between "prick" (seventh place) and "arsehole" (ninth place). By comparison, the word "balls" (which has a similar literal meaning) was down in 22nd place. Of the people surveyed, only 11% thought that "bollocks" could acceptably be broadcast at times before the notional 9pm "watershed on television (radio does not have a watershed).

Negative uses

"Bollocks!"

"Bollocks!" can be used as a stand-alone interjection to express strong disagreement. It dismisses a statement as nonsense, similar to "bullshit", but much stronger in its emphasis and implications. This can be expanded, for example, to "What a complete and utter load of bollocks!" An expression with a similar meaning is "Yer ballax!" (Your bollocks). A "bollocking" can be used to describe whatever is happening to anyone being reprimanded. Example: "I didn't do my homework. My teacher gave me a right bollocking".

"Bollocks" can be used to annunciate a lie, an incorrect statement, an unfair situation, misfortune or a hiding to nothing, i.e "what a load of bollocks," or "it's such complete bollocks". A quotation from John O'Farrell includes a range of examples of this usage: a character attending a comedy awards ceremony said: "These awards are a load of bollocks. It's all bollocks, all of it. These people: bollocks; this whole industry: complete bollocks; these prizes: meaningless bollocks; all these free gifts: marketing bollocks; this food: pure bollocks". Similarly, it is claimed that New Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell ' routinely dismissed unwelcome news stories as "bollocks", "complete bollocks" and "bollocks on stilts" '.

A related usage is in expressing contempt for something or someone. A Channel 4 TV programme on 9 June 2005, dealing with the subject of testicular cancer, was punningly titled Bollocks to Cancer. A similar usage is the "Bollocks to Brussels" car stickers, which were displayed by those wishing to express contempt for European law.

As an obscenity

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 "obscene" term demonstrated that in Old English the word referred to a priest, and could also be used to mean "nonsense".

The usage of the word "bollocks" caused controversy when 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 have made comparisons with the Sex Pistols case, pointing to some of the statements made by the defence barrister, 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?".

Not current in American

Because the word "bollocks" is not generally understood in American, it was used by one of the subjects in the 2004 reality television programme Brat Camp, in which troubled British and American teenagers were sent to an American wilderness reformation camp in the desert of central Oregon. The participants were forbidden (by the camp rules) from swearing, but since the supervisors did not recognize the term "bollocks" as a swear word, one member was able to use it with impunity to relieve his frustration. The programme included a brief segment in which he begged the (British) camera crew not to reveal the meaning of the word to the camp supervisors.

Also in the American medical drama series ER, British character Neela Rasgotra (played by British actress Parminder Nagra) has frequently used the word - presumably as a way for the writers to sneak an offensive word past censors into mainstream television.

Longer usage

Sometimes bollocks is combined with an abbreviated version of the original statement, for instance:

  • "It was your fault" - "Bollocks it was!" (It certainly was not).
  • "Did England win last night?" - "Did they bollocks!" (No, they didn't).

This usage is most frequently found in Hiberno-English, where the reiteration of the verb for emphasis in answering a question is common.

"Talking bollocks" and "Bollockspeak"

Talking nonsense or even bullshit, for example, "Don't listen to him, he's talking bollocks" or "...talking absolute bollocks". "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.

Testiculate (verb)

The act of talking bollocks whilst waving one's arms about wildly (i.e. gesticulating) can be referred to as testiculation. Possibly attributable to the BBC Radio 4 comedy programme "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue".

A "bollocks"

Comparable to cock-up, screw-up, balls-up, etc. Used with the indefinite article it means a disaster, a mess, a failure. It is often used pejoratively, as in "You made a bollocks out of that one, sunshine!". It is used throughout Ireland and the northern regions of the United Kingdom.

Bollocks (transitive verb)

To bollocks something up means "to mess something up". Alternatively, one can make a right bollocks of it. It refers to a botched job: "Well, you bollocksed it up that time, Your Majesty!" or "I'm sorry I'm so late. 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. It has not been unknown in some instances for the phrase to be used to highlight extreme anger. The phrase has also seen use in the literal sense when a male suffers injury to the scrotum.

"Bollocks dropping" is also used more physiologically to refer to male adolescence, especially when concerned with the changes to his voice, for instance: "How does he sing so high?" - "Simple, his bollocks haven't dropped yet."

More recently the term has been used to describe disbelief, for instance: "He nearly dropped a bollock when he found out", "The manager would drop a bollock if he knew".

A "bollocking"

A "bollocking" usually mean a strong 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, apparently, she shouldn't have been...and the surgeon got a bollocking". The term is used frequently in the British Army recruitment process where it is mutually understood that "if you err, you will get bollocked (or get a bollocking)" — in most cases, these bollockings will be without physical contact but will be a verbal assault on a person's character, appearance or actions.

Originally, a bollocking was a serious assault, and the term comes from the bollock dagger, popular between the 13th and 18th centuries.

Rollocking is sometimes used as a euphemism for "bollocking", and is not to be confused with rowlocks, which are devices used in rowing a boat.

Bollocking (adjective)

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.

In Ireland, it is also the name of a non-alcoholic cocktail of Red Bull and red lemonade.

"Dog's Bollocks Syndrome"

"Dog's Bollocks Syndrome" can be used to describe an excessive use of technology or visual aid, such as in an enormous use of Flash animations on a website. It is derived from the question: "Why do dogs lick their bollocks?" (answer: "Because they can"). In a technological context, the question could be "Why has the web developer included a three-minute animated intro to this page?", prompting the response: "Dog's Bollocks Syndrome, mate. Because he can".

"Up to one's bollocks"

This phrase can be used if one is overwhelmed with something, for instance: "Can you help me out, Henry? I'm up to my bollocks in paperwork!", or: "The wife over-watered the flowerbeds again, and now I'm up to my bollocks in petunias!". It is a vulgarism for the more usual "up to one's eyes (in something)".

"Bollock cold", "freeze one's bollocks off" and "work one's bollocks off"

The scrotum's purpose is to keep testicles a couple of degrees cooler than the rest of the body. However, bollock cold means very cold indeed. "It's bollock cold outside - it's enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey". Both icy weather and hard work run the risk of orchidectomy: "Fred worked his bollocks off on that last project". This phrase is sometimes used by and about women. Lee Ryan from Blue (boy band) refers to his mother having "worked her bollocks off" to help his early career. ) In this context, one can also "work one's bollocks to the bone".

"Bollock naked"

Used in singular form to describe being in the nude: "he was completely pissed and stark bollock naked". "Bollocky" is Australian slang for "naked"; in the bollocky-buff is naval slang for the same. However, "bollock naked" is naval slang for spaghetti bolognese.

Bollocks (singular noun)

In Ireland, "bollocks", "ballocks" or "bollox" can be used as a singular noun to mean a despicable or notorious person: eg "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 have a pint!".

"Bollocksed"

Multiple meanings; also spelled "bolloxed":

  1. Exhausted: "I couldn't sleep at all last night; I'm completely bollocksed!"
  2. Broken: "My foot pump is bollocksed."
  3. An extreme state of inebriation or drug-induced stupor: "Last night I got completely bollocksed".
  4. Hungover (or equivalent): "I drank two bottles of gin last night, I'm completely bollocksed".

Positive uses

"Dog's bollocks"

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: ‘'E thinks 'e's the dog's bollocks.’ Well he's entitled to. It was a commanding speech: a real dog's bollocks of an oration". Sometimes the phrase is shortened to just "the dog's" or "the bollocks" (see below). There are also several broadly synonymous substitute phrases that are sometimes used for humorous effect, including "the mutt's nuts", "the dog's danglies", "the badger's nadgers", etc.

Although this is a recent term (the Online Etymology Dictionary dates it to 1989), its origins are obscure:

  • Etymologist Eric Partridge and the BBC believe the term comes from the printers' mark of a colon and a dash;
  • Another theory suggests it is a compound word of 1950's 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 rhyming reduplications of positive meaning which were popular during the 1920s ("the bee's knees", "the cat's pajamas").

This phrase has found its way into popular culture in a number of ways. There is a beer brewed in England by the Wychwood Brewery called the "Dog's Bollocks", as well as a lager cocktail. There is an Australian political blog called The Dogs Bollocks, with the motto 'Truth is like a dog’s bollocks - pretty obvious if you care to look – but most of us prefer to avert our gaze, or have them permanently removed'. In a derivative word-play, fans of Chelsea F.C. are known to refer to players Michael Ballack and Didier Drogba as "The Drog's Ballacks".

"The bollocks"

"The bollocks" — and the definite article is important here — can be used to mean something exceptionally good, when one is talking about a person or object: "My new car is the bollocks!" or "That new chef down the road, she's the bollocks!". Non-native speakers of British English should exercise caution when using the term in this manner, as the positive applications of the word do not remove any of its vulgarity or implied familiarity. The antonymic property of "bollocks" and "the [dog's] bollocks" is often used in humour, such as in the film The 51st State.

"Top bollock(s)"

"Top bollock" is used as a superlative, for example: "This beer is top bollock". Used in the plural, "top bollocks" can be a slang term for women's breasts: "Look at Suzanne's top bollocks - you don't get many of those to the pound". It is also known to be used to refer to authority figures or those in power, particularly by office workers, for instance: "I have to do this, it's an order from the Top Bollocks" (see also "Top Dog", "Top Brass").

"Chuffed to one's bollocks"

The phrase "chuffed to one's bollocks" describes someone who is very pleased with himself. Nobel laureate Harold Pinter uses 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".

Euphemisms

Although the term "bollocks" is more easily accepted now than it was at the time of the Sex Pistols trial, there are occasions when an alternative phrase is required, either for reasons of decorum or to thwart an overzealous mail filter.

Rhyming slang

The Cockney 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.

Spoonerisms

The spoonerism "Bonkey Dollocks" is a term of endearment for a well-endowed male. "The bonkey's dollocks" can be used as a synonym for "the dog's bollocks", as can "the bog's dollocks". Another popular spoonerism is "Betty Swollocks" (also "Swallox" or "Swallocks"). "It ain't half hot and humid in Kuala Lumpur, mum - I've got a serious case of Betty Swollocks". This can be shortened to "The Betties", although "The Betties" could denote any sweaty part of the anatomy.

Balderdash

Balderdash has a long, anorchid pedigree going back centuries, but sounds as though it could be a profanity: "With all due respect, Brian, you're talking balderdash". It is half of the title of the BBC etymology programme, in conjunction with the OED, Balderdash and Piffle.

"Horlicks"

The term "Horlicks" was brought to prominence in July 2003 when 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.

"Bullocks", "gonads", "nadgers" and "ballbags"

In the movie The Devil Wears Prada, Emily, the snooty assistant to the fashion editor, uses the term "bullocks" as an expletive when informed of her impending removal from the Paris team.

Other words are direct substitutions for "bollocks" in the sense of "testicles". Nadgers is one of many words dripping with sexual innuendo which emerged in the 1950s and 1960s to evade strict BBC censorship. The etymology is uncertain, but possibly based on "gonad". When Rambling Syd Rumpo on the radio show Round the Horne asked "What shall we do with a drunken nurker?", the answer he gave was "Hit him in the nadgers with the bosun's plunger...till his bodgers dangle".The badger's nadgers can be used as a rhyming substitute for the phrase the dog's bollocks.

Ballbags was popularised by the English comedian Russell Brand, on his television show Big Brother's Big Mouth. Over the course of series 7, they gradually developed their own personalities with one of them as the "younger, shyer bag", and the other as the "older, more confident bag". They featured in various escapades throughout series 7, but were then replaced by some "dicksacks". Brand also used ballbags as an all-purpose expletive, as bollocks may have been considered too rude for the audience demographic which Channel 4 was trying to attract.

Humour

There is a strand of English 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."

Another joke plays on a double meaning: "I was in the shoe-menders today and I got kicked in the cobblers".

Ballock knife

There is a type of late-medieval dagger that is known to weapon and armour specialists as a "ballock knife" or "ballock-hafted knife". This dagger has a pair of symmetrical oval swellings located on each side of the hilt at the guard and clearly resembling male genitalia. An example can be found in the Wallace Collection in central London and is depicted in the museum's official catalogue.

Other uses

  • "Bollock-head" is a 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.
  • "Bollock-chops" describes someone with a round face. "Bollock-breath" is a general term of abuse, likely for a person suffering from halitosis. "Bollock-buster" refers to any very heavy item, especially one that may cause a hernia.
  • "Bollocked" can describe the period during which a painful, sometimes crippling sensation is experienced by virtue of the testicles being physically assaulted, for instance by a football. Usage: "The ball caught me right up the nads and I was bollocked for a good 5 minutes".
  • On the Internet, "bollocks" is sometimes synonymous with miscellaneous in some blogs. It is used to list stories which do not fit into any particular category.
  • During the 1990s, a craze of shouting "bollocks!" swept through UK festivals. Upon hearing someone shouting the word, the etiquette was to repeat the word as loud as possible. The end result was seemingly spontaneous outbreaks of "bollocks!"-shouting spreading across the campsites.

Other slang words for testicles

There are a large number of slang terms for testicles.

International parallels

It is by no means common for languages to make such frequent reference to this particular organ, but one language which does so is close neighbour Dutch, which uses klootzak similarly as an insult.

References

See also

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