Never Mind The Bollocks – An Etymology Of A Swear Word

Time to put the spoiler hat on for anyone who hasn’t read the final issue of Brightest Day. And who hasn’t been spoiled reading Comics Alliance, Newsarama and the like. And so who hasn’t realised that the final few pages see the return of yet another Vertigo character to the DC Universe that bore them, namely one John Constantine. A little bit younger, a little bit shinier, and using a word that the BBC last surveyed as the eighth most offensive word in the english language. Take it away John.

Quite a jump for a comic without a mature readers label on the front. Or rather that the American public just don’t see it as a swear word, more an attempt for Anglophiles to feel part of a special clique as they, invariably, misuse it. So what does it mean and where does it come from?

One of the first appearances of the word is in the John Wycliffe Bible of 1382, with Leviticus chapter 22, verse 24 translated as “Al beeste, that … kitt and taken a wey the ballokes is, ye shulen not offre to the Lord…”. Cut off the animal’s testicles and you can’t offer it as a sacrifice to God.

Another word for testicles or “balls”, it’ mostly used to describe that something is awful, pathetic, a disappointment, not fit for use. “It’s a load of bollocks” is a common example. It is also an exclamation to express displeasure and disdain, as seen above.

Making the word a definitive article however, reverses that. If something is “the bollocks” or “the dog’s bollocks” then it’s very good indeed. Don’t ask me why.

Its use in the Sex Pistols album title, Never Mind The Bollocks led to a court trial. And while DC are happy to have the word appear in a non-mature readers comic, the only British comic you’ll see it commonly used in, is the over-18s only Viz Comic, specifically the character Roger Mellie, where it became a catchphrase. A Ron Burgandy style TV presenter, it would always be used inappropriately on live television…

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But now that it’s been deemed acceptable to use in such a DC comic book, I look forward to a little bollock spread in DC titles over the next few months…