“Bollocks (or bollix) up”: British or American?

On my blog about British words and expressions adopted in America, Not One-Off-Britishisms, I’ve written briefly a couple of times about “bollocks,” originally meaning testicles and since used in all sorts of colorful ways. (The link is the more recent post, and it has a link to the previous one.) I recommend the comments on both, many of which are relate to how offensive the term has been, until fairly recently, in Britain.

I imagine that the move to acceptability occurred following the 1977 album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. The record company was actually brought to court on obscenity charges; it won. Incidentally, it appears that the album led to the change in the more common spelling of the word, from “ballocks” to “bollocks.” Check out this chart from Google Books Ngram Viewer, showing the incidence of the two words in British books:

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No Dry Seats in the House. Or Senate.

A couple of weeks ago, while he was still working in the White House, Steve Bannon phoned journalist Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect and unburdened himself. Kuttner wrote that Bannon

minced no words describing his efforts to neutralize his rivals at the Departments of Defense, State, and Treasury. “They’re wetting themselves,” he said, proceeding to detail how he would oust some of his opponents at State and Defense.

That was merely one iteration of a metaphor that has been in the political air at least since February 2016, when, during a Republican debate, Sen. Marco Rubio took aim at then-candidate Donald Trump:

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“Bullshit” now fit to print

On August 8, “bullshit” made its first appearance in the New York Times.

Two caveats are in order. First, I’m talking about the Times’ domestic print edition. The word has been used many times in Reuters articles posted to the paper’s website, several times in its own online blogs and articles, and at least once in the international print edition, in a quotation from Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father:

I blew a few smoke rings, remembering those years. Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it … And if the high didn’t solve whatever it was that was getting you down, it could at least help you laugh at the world’s ongoing folly and see through all the hypocrisy and bullshit and cheap moralism.

Second, on two previous occasions, in 1977 and 2007, the Times  had printed “‘bullshit'”–that is, had included the word in a quotation. The first instance is notable for the early date and also because it came in a column by John B. Oakes, who was not only the editorial page editor but also the nephew of Adolph Ochs, who bought the newspaper in 1896 and transformed it from an undistinguished daily to a major international news organization.

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Mewling quim

It started with an e-mail in 2012 from a Londoner named John Stewart. He was writing to me because I conduct a blog called “Not One-Off Britishisms,” which deals with British words and expressions that have gained currency in the U.S.

Stewart directed me to a post on the Bleeding Cool website about a moment in the then-current film The Avengers, written by the Americans Joss Whedon and Zak Penn. Loki (a bad guy) addresses Black Widow with the two-word epithet that’s the title of this post. The site said:

This is possibly the most offensive line in the film. … It is just that some people aren’t too familiar with the derivation. In more modern English, this would be “whining cunt”. In American English, “cunt” is generally used as a misogynistic insult, mostly used against women, insulting their very nature of being female. British English doesn’t use the female-specific aspect of this in an insult, which loses much of the misogynistic tone. Indeed, it’s more likely to be used against a man, an exaggerated form of “wanker”. But “quim,” though rarely used, is done so in a misogynist fashion. It’s only used about women, and is very much about reducing them to their gender, as if that by definition, reduces their importance. And that’s how Loki uses it in Avengers.

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