Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Trying to sound cool & British: bollocks!

We've seen other cases before of Americans trying to use "cool" British words--especially slightly "colo(u)rful" words, and getting it wrong ([more used in BrE] viz. wanker, snog). Here's a lovely example from the New York Daily News (which I saw via Oliver Burkeman):



There's a pile-up of Britishisms here: arse (=AmE ass), Mummy (=AmE Mommy), footy (=AmE soccer--or whatever informal equivalent of soccer there is. Socky?). But the sore thumb sticking out here is bollocks (click link to see its Word of the Year discussion). Yes, bollocks sometimes--sometimes--is an equivalent to AmE bullshit in the sense of 'nonsense, (BrE) rubbish'  But calling bullshit on (something/someone) is an American idiom, and you just can't stick new words (especially new words with not-quite-the-same-feel) into idioms. Kicking the pail is not the same as kicking the bucket; a bird in the hand is not worth two in the shrub, etc.

Who knows, maybe call bollocks on will catch on among the readers of the Daily News, and then we'll have yet another case where borrowing a word from one dialect to another brings a reduction in meaning and a change in usage with it. But I'm betting that British readers are hoping otherwise...


P.S. my arse! or my ass! also qualifies as an idiom, but the two dialects share it, albeit with different forms of the word. (See the link at arse above for more of the arse–ass story.)

P.P.S. Yes, there are a few examples of it on the internets. In those cases, taking the US idiom and replacing 'bullshit' with 'bollocks'. But the facts that (a) Urban Dictionary hasn't noticed it, and (b) two Brits on Twitter pointed it out to me as a bad translation underscore that it's a weird usage. 

46 comments:

Ginger Yellow said...

I'm more struck by the juxtaposition of "my arse" with "mummy", which seems unlikely. "Mum" would be much more natural.

Anonymous said...

I believe soccer is (or was) the informal equivalent of 'association football' in the same way rugger is to 'rugby football'.

biochemist said...

The/we British surely said 'Bollocks to Remain, I'm going to vote for Brexit'.
And now we have a future of turmoil, reshuffles, and all that bollocks.
And Jeremy Corbyn is getting a right bollocking from his parliamentary party.
Oh dear.

lynneguist said...

Anonymous, yes, if you click on the link at 'soccer' you'll be taken to the post that discusses it.

lynneguist said...

I've added a couple of PSes since first posting. I haven't got the hang of quick blog posts!

Dick Hartzell said...

All right, the Daily News got its British slang wrong. Tempest in a teapot. (Or should I say Tempest in a kettle?) Today it's a headline, tomorrow it'll be wrapping fish.

Even when Americans use Britishisms properly all hell breaks loose, as when Obama had the temerity to use the word queue in his speech on the UK staying in the EU.

Me thinks some folks doth protest too much, ya know?

richardelguru said...

I have an old Dilbert cartoon outside my cube (being a Briton in TX) wherein the pointy-headed boss thinks he's hired a genius, who turns out to be an 'ordinary guy faking a British accent'.

Boris Zakharin said...

A few tangentially related thoughts:

How is it that the seemingly playful "Brexit" has successfully become the standard term for a very serious action with drastic consequences?

RE: curse words, it is common in many languages to use foreign curse words because they don't have the same taboo as the native ones, despite (or because of?) knowing how strong they are in their country of origin. I'm pretty sure the f-word is widely used in many non-English-speaking countries, even in print. So "bollocks" isn't all that unusual in this regard.

Also, I've read several times that everywhere in the world, the term "football" refers to whatever variety of football is the most common, while the others are called by their full name or abbreviation thereof. Thus, the story goes, "association football" or "soccer" is the logical term for the US to use when referring to the sport. One thing I thought of that refutes this is that for Americans soccer is not thought of as a type of football (I bet most Americans who don't religiously follow the sport don't know what "soccer" stands for), nor is rugby (never "rugby football"). Canadian Football is the only other type of football.

Dick Hartzell said...

RE: curse words, it is common in many languages to use foreign curse words because they don't have the same taboo as the native ones, despite (or because of?) knowing how strong they are in their country of origin. I'm pretty sure the f-word is widely used in many non-English-speaking countries, even in print.

Absolutely. This comment brought to mind an interview the American talk/chat show host Dick Cavett did some 30 or 35 years ago with Federico Fellini and Marcello Mastroianni. I've forgotten the details, but Mastroianni was relating a story about repeatedly being pestered by someone (a young fan, perhaps) and, in an exasperated sotto voce whisper, he began gesturing as if shoving the person away while almost inaudibly remarking "Fuck off! Fuck off!" Because Cavett's show had by then migrated from commercial television to public television I'm guessing there were no shocked Standards & Practices attorneys to placate and thus no audio that had to be censored. But it may well be the only time in my life I've heard the f-word on broadcast television in the United States, and it seemed clear to me that Mastroianni, whose English was fairly imperfect, had no idea just how profane he was being.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Whereas here, Dick Hartzell, they do use strong language in television programmes, but not before 9:00 pm (known as "The Watershed") and not without warning. If they say the programme contains strong language, you know someone is going to use the f-word, and if they say it contains very strong language, you know someone is going to use the c-word that Lynne talked about a couple of posts ago.

The silly thing is that it only applies to drama - if someone uses such a word on a panel game, for instance, it is bleeped out.

lynneguist said...

'Brexit' being used seriously is kind of like 'Obamacare' in the US. Started out as a dismissive (or worse) nickname, but has pretty much replaced the real name of the thing (Affordable Care Act/ACA).

That said, I mostly read 'Brexit' in tabloid headlines. When people are actually talking about it, they talk about 'Leave' and 'Remain' as the sides and 'leaving the EU', etc.

David Crosbie said...

The linked discussion of arse (click) doesn't actually deal with My arse!.

This looks like an exclamation, but it's actually a comment, typically a comment (of considerable negative force) on an idea that has just been named or on the word used to express it.

In the headline it functions as a vehement dismissal of the word mighty. Many, many years ago, people used to say My foot!.

David Crosbie said...

I looked for a clip of Jim Royle of the Royle Family and found this compilation (click).

Anonymous said...

How should it be said "scream bollocks"?

Peter Mork said...

The link to "mummy" reminded me that I recently saw the film "Eye in the Sky", in which Helen Mirren is a military officer running an operation involving British, Kenyan and American subordinates. When the Brits and Kenyans answer her, they say "yes mum"; to the Americans it's "yes ma'am" (or mam, or however you like to spell it). I have assumed, perhaps wrongly, that "mum" was just a way to pronounce "ma'am" in a somewhat deferential way, like one of those working-class Michael Caine characters might say it - no one is mistaking an officer for their mother, and no American would address a female officer as "mom". Am I even remotely correct?

Stan said...

I've heard, and read, 'call bollocks (on)' in Ireland, and may even have used it now and then. It's familiar enough not to seem weird to me.

Zouk Delors said...

Dick Hartzell

"Tempest in a teapot. (Or should I say Tempest in a kettle?"

You should say "storm in a teacup" (if you're trying to sound Br.)

Also, it should be methinks = it seems to me (one word, deriving from OE thyncan = seem, not thencan = think)... and do (3rd pers. pl.), not doth (3rd pers. sing.)

jane elizabeth said...

When I read the wording used by the NY Daily News I don't see it as an attempt to sound 'cool & British' but rather that they are mocking the British.

Phoebus said...

The NY Daily News may have been mocking the British, but it was England that was knocked out of the competition. The Welsh team reacted somewhat differently:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEM6ODg1hzA

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

I don't think I've heard "call bollocks" in my dialect. Or "Call bullshit", either, although I understand both. I think I'd just say "That's bollocks", or possibly "That's rubbish!" depending on who I was talking to (I have two young grandsons, and their mother would really prefer they were sheltered from some of the more - er - colourful aspects of the English language, at least for the time being!).

As for "Mighty, my arse!" (it needs the comma), as David Crosbie so rightly says, politer people say "My foot!" which then mutates to "my left toe!" and, of course, to "my left tit!" One can use a fair amount of creativity with body parts to express scepticism.

Peter Mork, yes, you are correct. "Mum" would be the phonetic rendering of how soldiers would speak - and, a generation or so ago, various writers would have their maidservants address their mistresses as "Mum". It is a variant on "Ma'am", pronounced "Mam", which I am given to understand is how one addresses senior female members of the Royal Family, not that I have ever had need to do so!

However, in the South of England, in particular, children address their female parent as "Mum", or (mostly, but not exclusively, for younger children) "Mummy".

David Crosbie said...

Lynne

I mostly read 'Brexit' in tabloid headlines. When people are actually talking about it, they talk about 'Leave' and 'Remain'

Well, that may have been true for Brexit as a choice. But now the word refers to the result of that choice.

Everybody on TV and radio seems to be saying Brexit to the exclusion of any other term. On Newsnight tonight I heard a French Finance Minister repeatedly referring to 'le brexit'.

Kate Bunting said...

"Mum" for one's mother is by no means exclusive to Southern England (I'm from the Midlands). "Mam" is used in Wales (it's the Welsh word for "mother") and also sometimes in Northern England (not sure about Scotland), but I would have said that "Mum" was pretty universal.

Autolycus said...

Indeed, Kate Bunting: just a word here in praise of the (very) understated BBC sitcom "Mum", which has just finished its run.

As for the OP, I wouldn't say "call bollocks on", but if I did I would have expected the headline to say "on the EU": as I read it, it says the exact opposite to what they thought they were saying (though FWIW, my own reaction to the result was entirely as they said, being a committed Remainian). I think the usual formulation in the UK would be "(say [usually omitted for dramatic effect]) bollocks to that".

biochemist said...

May I refer you to my comment near the top, when I suggested that we Brits (but not me!) said 'Bollocks to Remain'! Even staid ladies like me will use the word in the various formulations I gave above - because we have been persuaded that the word does not refer to male anatomy, cf the discussion last week of insulting language.

And when Brits address the Queen, we would be saying ma'am, it's just that our 'Marm' is non-rhotic so it sounds closer to 'Mum'. We do also have 'schoolmarm' to describe an old-fashioned school teacher - who would actually have been a 'miss' in those days of course.

David Crosbie said...

Mrs Redboots

As for "Mighty, my arse!" (it needs the comma)

Yes that's what I was thinking, before that Jim Royle compilation reminded me that there are two structures

1. NOUN, my arse! = 'I have nothing but contempt for NOUN'
There's a variant
ADJECTIVE my arse! = 'I have nothing but contempt for your choice of the word ADJECTIVE'
Hence Mighty, my arse!

2. VERB + my arse = 'I have nothing but contempt for what you say and do or what you want me to do'
This is without a comma and the verb is generally kiss.

Jim's tirades in the video include
VERB Lick my arse!
NOUN Pasta, my arse!

Then, I think, there's an ambiguity which the audience is meant to spot, although the character presumably didn't mean it:
NOUN?/VERB? Laminate(,) my arse!

David Crosbie said...

Sorry, the variant structure is punctuated

ADJECTIVE, my arse!

David Crosbie said...

Listening again to Jim's tirades, there are some other possibilities

CLAUSE, my arse!
INTRANSITIVE VERB, my arse!

These are similar to ADJECTIVE, my arse in expressing contempt for recent wording. Jim's examples:

It's good to talk, my arse!
Chillax, chillax, chillax, my arse!

Dick Hartzell said...

And when Brits address the Queen, we would be saying ma'am, it's just that our 'Marm' is non-rhotic so it sounds closer to 'Mum'. We do also have 'schoolmarm' to describe an old-fashioned school teacher - who would actually have been a 'miss' in those days of course.

Interesting! It reminds me that the four young sisters in Louisa May Alcott's novel Little Women (first published in 1869) refer to their mother as Marmee. Always wondered about it, since it's quite a deviation from any maternal term of endearment I can imagine American children using in my lifetime.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

To my British ears, "Marmee" sounds (mentally) exactly like "Mommy", and I assumed it was how Louisa May Alcott spelt it before the "Mommy" spelling became universal.

Dick Hartzell said...

To my British ears, "Marmee" sounds (mentally) exactly like "Mommy", and I assumed it was how Louisa May Alcott spelt it before the "Mommy" spelling became universal.

There is quite an acceptable film adaptation of Little Women that was released in 1994, one I watched several times with my daughter when she was growing up. But I can report that all the little women in it pronounced Marmee just as an American would today. Alas, I have no idea whether any thought went into this decision -- though it's easy to imagine that even if "Mommy" were deemed the proper pronunciation the producers might have dismissed it. They may have feared a late 20th-century audience would consider it anachronistic, since most of us have the vague idea that back then the default was probably "Mama". (Aside: the far more recent film adaptation of Colm Toibin's novel Brooklyn features what I consider the jarring and incorrect use of "Mom" by a character whose parents are supposed to be Italian immigrants. For a story set in Brooklyn around 1950 I'd wager that virtually all Italian-Americans of that era naturally called their mothers "Mama", not "Mom". As someone who also read the novel I can report that Toibin does indeed use "Mom", which, as an Irish author, he probably deemed authentically American. It's a wonderful novel and movie, but in this one small choice I think Toibin goofed.)

Grhm said...

Could somebody please explain what "Mighty my arse, Mummy" is supposed to mean?
I'm British, but I can't make head nor tail of it.

Dick Hartzell said...

Could somebody please explain what "Mighty my arse, Mummy" is supposed to mean?

How about this:

[You claim the England football team is] Mighty? My arse, Mummy!

How's that?

Grhm said...

Thanks for that.
I still don't really get it, though.
Whose mother is supposed to have said that England are "mighty", and when, and why are we supposed to know that she said it?

Dick Hartzell said...

Grhm:

If you look at the cover of the newspaper, it depicts the face of a young boy (presumably in attendance at the match and photographed moments after the English team lost to Iceland) looking extremely glum. So the editors of the Daily News have essentially put words in the lad's mouth.

Make sense?

David Crosbie said...

It doesn't make sense because Mighty, my arse! is not only devoid of deference and affection, it's positively incompatible with these feelings.

Even if used insincerely, Mummy at least pretends to express vulnerable childishness.

Not long ago, Prince Charles gave a speech of praise and appreciation of the Queen. It was a formal public occasion, so he began:

'Your Majesty, Mummy, ...'

David Crosbie said...

Besides, Dick, my arse! is a sort of enclitic in BrE. It's regularly tagged onto a word or words. The phrase can't be split into your pseudo dialogue: Might? My arse!

Well, I say it 'can't' be split. What I mean is that to mess around like that commits such stylistic violence that it's just not plausible British English.

And certainly not something you'd say to your mother.

Sean said...

I would just like to point out that Soccer is the informal. The formal is "Association". cf: Rugger/Rugby.

Dick Hartzell said...

And certainly not something you'd say to your mother.

Pretty sure if the editors of the Daily News understood one thing about their headline, it was that it wasn't something you'd say to your mother.

David Crosbie said...

Then what was the point?

David Crosbie said...

The 'sore thumb sticking out' isn't bollocks . It's Mummy.

Grhm said...

It might have made more sense if the picture contained anything to suggest that the boy is an England supporter (e.g. face paint, flag), but it doesn't.
And he doesn't appear to me to be "looking extremely glum".
With nearly half his face obscured there's really no telling what his mood is.
Furthermore, nobody with even a passing knowledge of international football would un-ironically describe the England team as "mighty".
I think we can all agree that for a whole variety of reasons this is an exceptionally poor front page!

Dick Hartzell said...

It might have made more sense if the picture contained anything to suggest that the boy is an England supporter (e.g. face paint, flag), but it doesn't.

And he doesn't appear to me to be "looking extremely glum".


To me the kid looks as if he's on the verge of tears. My surmise is also supported by the caption (if you click on the image to see it full-sized it's legible), which reads:

Teary boy sees England booted by Iceland in Euro soccer tourney, adding to nation's woes.

With nearly half his face obscured there's really no telling what his mood is.

Sorry -- there was never any doubt in my mind about the kid's sour mood.

And if you need help, there's the larger image of the England footballer lying prone on the pitch with his face in his hands. Is there any doubt about how dejected he is?

Furthermore, nobody with even a passing knowledge of international football would un-ironically describe the England team as "mighty".

Maybe not, but -- as if you needed reminding -- England had just lost to Iceland, a country with a population of 300,000 and a soccer team consisting of second- and third-tier nobodies. "Mighty" is a relative term here.

From where I sit on this side of the Atlantic Iceland's win was even more improbable than Leicester City's gaining the Premier League championship.

But since I'm not a diehard soccer fan, what do I know?

Zouk Delors said...

I hope the editor of the the publication in question will have regard to all these comments. I will expect any future mockery of the English national team from that quarter to goal far more effecticaciously.

Dick Hartzell said...

I apologize for adding a 44th comment to this endless autopsy of one lousy Daily News front page, but in mulling it over it dawned on me that this excruciating piece of American schadenfreude probably wouldn't have appeared at all if the UK hadn't voted Leave in the Brexit referendum.

It would be dishonest to say that most Americans were closely following the lead-in to the Brexit vote and then stunned to hear the results (aside: my wife and I were indeed stunned), but there arose a certain incredulity among the chattering classes here that blended with an uneasy sense that Britain's preposterous Leave vote might foretell an equally preposterous Trump upset win in November.

Upshot: it's my half-baked impression that the editors of the Daily News were already feeling uncharitable about Britain's emerging Brexit worldview when this absurd upset at Euro 2016 presented itself as an irresistible opportunity to kick a man when he's already down.

The Daily News is a tabloid, after all -- though a tabloid somewhat to the left of its tabloid-twin, the Rupert-Murdoch-owned New York Post. So kick they did ... and clearly injured the King's slang to boot.

Joel T. Luber said...

Sorry for the late comment. As an American, I immediately understood the crying child. It is a trope here in the US for the television cameras to focus on a crying child (or college student for college sports) when a team that was expected to win (or is historically dominant) is losing, particularly in an elimination game. This crying child is very obvious to me as fitting within that trope. Is this not a thing in the UK?

Here are a few examples:

http://totalfratmove.com/the-legend-of-the-crying-bama-fan/
http://www.sbnation.com/lookit/2014/3/24/5542394/crying-kansas-fan-gif-cbs-why
http://www.tarheeltimes.com/photos/funny_unc_photos/photo.aspx?image=Duke%20Kid%20Crying.jpg
http://www.outkickthecoverage.com/crying-kentucky-fan-takes-loss-hard-040415
http://deadspin.com/5786167/your-vcukansas-commemorative-keepsake-poster

Dick Hartzell said...

Nice little insight, there, Joel.

Thanks for sharing.

-- Dick Hartzell