"B-----y" and "f------g"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Wed Dec 2 19:37:16 UTC 2009


Americans have long believed that the expletive "bloody" is somehow
"obscene" in England -  simply one more reason why the Brits are so
amusing.  The more sophisticated among us, however, know that "bloody"
really isn't much stronger than is "darned" over here.

But that's now, and I'm talking about then.  The Proceedings of the Old
Bailey from 1674-1913 have been online for a while and tell a somewhat
different story.  The Proceedings contain much verbatim - or nearly verbatim
- testimony from all sorts of witnesses.  The court stenographers over many
decades held very closely to a style that invoked dashes or occasionally
asterisks to fill out words that were considered unprintable even in the
official record of criminal trials.  (This seems not to have been the
general practice in the United States; recall, e.g., the startling 1864
occurrence of "fucked up" reported here by yours truly some time ago.

The Old Bailey stenographers did not like to write (or the editors did not
like to print) the expletive "bloody."  In this example, they seem to have
been of two minds. It is especially interesting because it records an idiom
I do not recall having seen elsewhere:

1836  Trial of Henry George Thomas [
http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/images.jsp?doc=183608150005] and ff.:  [H]e
said, "Bloody into you, I will have your life, or you shall have mine."...He
used many very wicked words—he said, "B----y into you, I will have your
life, it is no use your thinking of any thing else, for I will have
it."..."I will have your b----y life....Ten b-----y policemen shall not
hinder me."

And considerably earlier:

1804 Trial of Jeremiah Corneilly et al. (Jan. 11) [
http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/images.jsp?doc=180401110026]:   Court. Q.
Give us the expression he used? - A. Words to this effect: d - n Bridgman,
bl - st Bridgman, d - n the high-constable, d - n all his bl - y traps, and
several such like expressions, repeatedly, and d - n his bl - y liver was
used several times indeed, that seemed to be the principal word among them.

I have not troubled to determine precisely when the use of hyphens became
the rule, but in the 18th C. the word had commonly been spelled out:

1761  Trial of Thomas Morris (Oct. 21) [
http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/images.jsp?doc=176110210061]:  She said, You
bloody son of a bitch, you thief you murderer, you kick'd me down.

1776 Trial of Joseph Bull (Jan. 9) [
http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/images.jsp?doc=177601090040]:  [Y]ou
bloodybitch, I will knock your bloody liver out, and your bloody melt.

1807 Trial of Thomas Jones  (Jan. 14)  [
http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/images.jsp?doc=180701140065]: [A]s I was
walking along, four stout lads came up to me, and the prisoner was one of
them, the prisoner damned my  bloody eyes, and hit me.

The hyphen-obscured form remained customary right into the 20th C. For

1910  Trial of Thomas William Broadbent (May 31) [
http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/images.jsp?doc=191005310089]:  Mr. and Mrs.
Lancaster both called me a ginger-headed bastard and abused me. Prisoner and
Mrs. Holland left. I remained inside, when prosecutor said to me, "Are you
going to walk out, or else I will b— quick show you how to go out?"

Note how "bitch" and "bastard" are often spelled out in full (after some
point in the 18th C. "bugger" never was, "sod" - from the early 19th -
rarely was), but "bloody" remains "unprintable."

I must conclude in England the expletive "bloody" was indeed considered
extremely strong, even indecent, language, in what today we would call
"mainstream" culture, for at least 150 years.


My copy of the latest edition of _The F-Word_ has submerged somewhere, but
these pre-1914 exx. of expletive "fucking" may not be in it.  (I noted these
some days ago without recording the names of the accused.)  1872 is, I
believe, the earliest indisputable ex. so far found anywhere, about twenty
years before the usage was first noted by Farmer & Henley:

*1872* *Old Bailey Proceedings*   (July 8) [
http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/images.jsp?doc=187207080031]: He made use of
foul language, and said God strike him dead, he would do for him that
night—he  called him a b—y f—g *sod* .  *1888  **Old Bailey
Proceedings**  *(Oct.
22)* *[http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/images.jsp?doc=188810220120]:   Scarr
as he passed called me a b——y f——g  bastard, and Williams offered to strike
me.  *1895*  *Old Bailey Proceedings*  (Oct. 21)  [
http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/images.jsp?doc=189510210111]: He called me a
f— whore and said he would kick my f— guts in. *1899 **Old Bailey
Proceedings** *[http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/images.jsp?doc=189906260069]:
* *Take that, you bastard; I’ll kick your f-----g balls out.* 1902 * *Old
Bailey Proceedings*
http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/images.jsp?doc=190204070034]: Let go of me; I
will have your f-----g life, you bastard….Come on, *Jack*, have a f-----g go
for it.


"There You Go Again...Using Reason on the Planet of the Duck-Billed

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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