Never Mind the Bollocks

What English could really benefit from is a standard diminutive form. Many other languages have at least one common way to transform a noun into a dimunitive form, usually by adding a suffix. In French you can add -ette or -ot, Spanish often uses -ina or -ino, Portuguese the similar -inha or -inho, and Italian has a variety such as -etta/-etto and -ino/-ina.

Of course, English borrows some diminutive words from Latin languages, such as featurette, operetta, caipirinha, and duckling/gosling (from Norse). And many specific forms of English feature unique diminutive forms. Scots for example, has quite a few, mainly from older forms of English and Scottish Gaelic. Some words used in Ireland are influenced by the Irish Gaelic diminutive -ín. It’s fairly common for a male baby to be described as a cute little maneen. A country lane might be called a boreen, from the word bóithrín (from bóthair [road] + –ín).

English used to have standard diminutive forms, evidence of which we can still see today. -en was a common form, as in kitten or maiden. Another suffix was -ock, as in hillock or bullock.

Or bollocks. Yes, this apparently rude swearword is older than you might think. And, it’s probably fair to say that it’s not a swearword at all. As the word’s not commonly used in American English, you may not be very familiar with it. It’s best-known use is to refer to testicles. It’s quite flexible beyond that though. It can be used as a general exclamation of frustration or dismay, like Damn it! The more creative among us can use it in a phrasal verb: if you mess something up you can say you bollocksed it up. You can also talk bollocks, i.e. nonsense. In Ireland it’s also often used to refer to someone who’s basically an asshole. There’s something quite satisfying about calling someone a right bollocks. So it’s quite versatile, like the F word in all its forms.

Much of that last paragraph might lead you to doubt my suggestion that we you might not actually consider it a swearword. Well, I say bollocks to that! Let me take you back to November 1977. On Saturday 5th November, a policewoman named Julie Dawn Storey was walking past a Virgin Record Store in Nottingham, England, when she spotted a copy of the Sex Pistols’ album Never Mind the Bollocks (Here’s the Sex Pistols) in the window. She went inside, confiscated five copies of the album, and arrested the shop’s manager Christopher Searle, telling him that the display of the album was in violation of the 1899 Indecent Advertising Act. In the period before the trial, record shops covered up the album or refused to sell it, and newspapers refused to display ads for it (really only adding to the band’s notoriety. On 24th November, the trial began. Searle and Virgin Records were represented by John Mortimer.

Mortimer was a barrister who had already made a name for defending obscenity cases, and would seen become more famous as a writer, specifically for creating Rumpole of the Bailey. Mortimer’s experience stood him in good stead, and he was able to demonstrate that the word bollocks was a perfectly legitimate word with a clear, non-rude meaning. He proved that from about the beginning of the 11th century, the word had been commonly used to describe any kind of small ball (ball + -ock  = bollock), and suggested that the prosecution were perhaps more interested in attacking the band, rather than protecting the innocent from the horrors of the word bollocks. The case was promptly dismissed, and the album cover was ruled to be “decent.”

So the next time you feel like letting off some steam, feel free to utter a hearty Bollocks!, safe in the knowledge that you’re using not only a perfectly acceptable word, but tracing a direct link back to your ancestors’ speech from more than 1,000 years ago. By saying Bollocks, you’re keeping history alive.

13 thoughts on “Never Mind the Bollocks

  1. Sounds like a bunch of bollocks to me. Lol! Neat post! I kinda like the idea that if I scream bollocks when frustrated it’s kind of the equivalent of me yelling- balls! Lol. To my juvenile-like mind- gives me the giggles.

    Like

  2. Giggles here too. There is just something so old fashion and quaint about saying bollocks vs balls!

    This post was equally as satisfying as it took me back to my prior fascination with Mortimer and his character Horace Rumpole. Back when I was young, idealistic, and in love with English humor.
    ~~dru~~

    Liked by 1 person

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