Friday, August 8, 2008

Bollocks

Owing to a chance interchange at Starbucks, we have found ourselves considering the Britishism, "Bob's your uncle," which has netted us a poem, among other things.

Another Britishism that intrigues me is "bollocks." A bollock is a testicle, so bollocks are multiple testicles, but according the OED online, one may "bollocks" something, as in mess it up; there is a verbal form, in other words. If you're tempted to suggest "that makes no sense," simply consider how often Americans think or say "he sure effed that up." Think about it. When I was in Sweden, a Swede, mystified by the amount and variety of American cursing, said, "You know, we really have no curse words based on sexual activity." He didn't sound as if he regarded this as something lacking in Swedish.

I think every Hugh Grant movie I've ever seen has had "bollocks" in the script. Maybe the situation is similar to Christopher Walken movies, wherein Christopher is allowed to dance--in some fashion. (My favorite Walken quotation: "I'm not sure what the worst movie of all time is, but I'm sure I acted in it.")

Sometimes I think the British simply say "balls" in place of "bollocks." Is that right? Of course, it's impossible to try seriously to trace the "logic" of such cursing. I suppose you could try to make a case for "bullshit" being more "logical" than "bollocks," inasmuch as bullshit is waste material and therefore ostensibly worthless, except as fertilizer, but on the other hand, "bollocks" is more absurd. "What a load of bollocks!"

According the OED online, the etymology of bollocks goes back to a noun referring to a sacrificial knife. Ouch.

The OED also includes a quotation from one of my favorite English poets, Philip Larkin. If you haven't read his poem, "This Be the Verse," you really must.

1940 P. LARKIN Let. 9 Dec. in Sel. Lett. (1992) 4, I suppose my writing is terrible. Sod & bollocks, anyway. Not to mention cunt and fuck.

What I like about this quotation is that it qualifies as scholarly because the OED uses it, and that it seems as if Larkin, in his letter, catches himself cursing and then, like a naughty boy, finds cursing so pleasurable that he curses some more. And like many of us writers, he's unamused by his own writing.

At any rate, Bob is your uncle, the one who says "bollocks," not to mention--well, anyway.
Post a Comment