Green’s Dictionary of Slang is the dog’s bollocks

Soon after Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary was published in 1755, so the story goes, he was approached by a pair of prudish readers who commended him for omitting ‘improper’ words. Johnson, according to one account, replied to the women: ‘What! my dears! then you have been looking for them?’

Today you can find improper words in any good dictionary – but only the main set. Fuck is there, but not fuckish, fuckfaced, fuck-nutty, fuck my old boots!, or fuck the dog and sell the pups. You’ll see shit in the usual sources, but good luck finding shit-breath, shit factory, shit-squirting, shit out, or shit on the dining room table.* Regular dictionaries just don’t cover the remarkable range of taboo vocabulary, nor should they.

For this we turn to specialist slang dictionaries. These do not shy from obscenity but embrace it in all its mutable monstrousness (I say this as someone who loves monsters, and mutants). And the best slang dictionary in existence – it defines, expertly, all the phrases above and thousands like them – is Green’s Dictionary of Slang (GDoS). Last year it went online. If that’s news to you, prepare for a treat.

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Susie Dent’s Guide to Swearing is top bollocks

Fuck, shit, bollocks, twat, bloody, and cunt are not the seven words you can never say on television – they’re six words that Susie Dent has said on television. Susie Dent’s Guide to Swearing, a new mini-series from Channel 4, offers an informative and irreverent summary of the history and use of some of our favourite bad words. You can watch the full series below.

A word-history specialist and broadcaster, Dent has written several books on language, most recently Dent’s Modern Tribes. She is best known as the resident lexicographer in ‘dictionary corner’ on Countdown, a perennially popular British TV game show. We can’t not mention that Countdown inadvertently produces the odd rude word to great general amusement.

Though she went to a convent school and was not allowed to swear at home (aside from an occasional bloody that ‘managed to fly below the radar’), Dent tells me she didn’t rebel into foulmouthedness. She loves swear words but doesn’t swear often – except at moments of stress or pain, when it ‘most definitely helps’. There’s a word for that:

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Four Femmes on the Thames: ‘Woman up and grow a twat!’

The Four Femmes on the Thames are a cabaret-style group who specialise in old-style jazz and swing music with a comedy twist. Their song ‘Woman Up’ was described by Holly Brockwell at Gadgette as the sweary feminist anthem of the year. I’m sure you can see the Strong Language angle (and appeal) already.

The title, if you’re wondering, inverts the sexist idiom man up, and instead of grow a pair the Femmes suggest that people grow a twat, recalling a quip (‘Grow a vagina – those things can take a pounding’) often misattributed to Betty White. The song is a 3-minute NSFW delight; lyrics and more below the fold:

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Never mind the bollocking, here’s the slang data

An unlikely swearword hit the headlines twice in recent days, thanks to its use on mainstream television from two prominent figures. In the first clip below, celebrity journalist Piers Morgan uses bollock as a transitive verb (meaning ‘scold, reprimand’) on the ITV chat show Good Morning Britain:

The phrase ‘whether he’s praising them or bollocking them’ is in reference to letters Prince Charles wrote to his sons William and Harry and the difficulty they sometimes had in deciphering his handwriting.

Presenter Susanna Reid immediately told Morgan to ‘excuse your language’, and after expressing surprise (‘Can you not say that?!’) he quickly apologised to viewers. Bollock and its derivatives are milder than prototypical swearwords like fuck but much ruder than synonyms like reprimand, roast and reproach. After all, bollocks refers chiefly to testicles.

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Bollox: Out of the Mouths of Babes

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Image: badgreeb RECORDS / flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A few years back, I was visiting with friends who had several boys, the youngest of which was aged three at the time. While I was there, it was decided that Daddy would bring the youngest to work with him for the day. Daddy’s work was a local garage/farm machinery depot, where all sorts of vehicles were bought/sold/brought for fixing. As you might imagine, for a three year old boy – tractors, wheels, tools, hoists, platforms, hammers, mechanics, the works –  this equated to three year old heaven.

Off they went for the morning, returning home to his Mammy for lunch. ‘Well’, she said, ‘how did you get on in Daddy’s work?’ ‘Grand’, says the three year old, before rushing out to the back garden to his plastic toy tractor. They watched as he methodically turned it upside down, mimicking the view underneath he had no doubt seen in the garage. He examined it closely, stood back, spat on the ground, gave it a kick and said, in an exasperated voice, “Well, fuck it anyway…’tis bolloxed…”

Needless to say, he didn’t go back after lunch.

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