another puzzle

It's still a holiday in the UK, but not in the US. So, in order to bring some fun and games into the American workday (even though, with my timing, it's almost over), here's a little puzzle for the Americans out there.

A few weeks ago, I read the following in an article about Sienna Miller in the free version of the local newspaper, and it took me FOREVER to figure out what the missing letters were--which just goes to show that I have not completely internali{s/z}ed my BrE taboo words.
Director George Hickenlooper joked that he had tried to stop Miller tucking into French fries and chocolate but she simply told him to 'b***** off'.
Do you know what it is? And if you didn't, what was your first guess? (Answers in the comments please.) British English speakers, please let Americans have a go before answering--we know you [probably] know the answer! I am aware, however, that both puzzles so far have been directed toward Americans. ([AmE] No fair!) If you have any ideas for a puzzle for BrE speakers, then please e-mail them to me.


  1. I can't believe there is anyone who doesn't know this....!
    I'll not spoil it for the non-English though....! I'll just b***** off!

  2. Bugger off comes to mind...

  3. I've been walking around the kitchen, waiting for the tea water to boil, making up various six letter possibilities starting with 'b'. Then, when I came back to the computer, it hit me. 'Bugger'! Do I win a prize???

  4. ooh, Michael beat me to it, but only by seconds...

  5. Oh, you're all so much more clever than I am. I spent some time thinking it was bollocks, thinking "Who says bollocks off?!" Then I reali{s/z}ed that there were too many letters in bollocks. Perhaps my problem in "getting it" was that I didn't think of bugger as something that needed expurgation. (I mean, on reflection, I know it is a taboo term, but it's used so casually these days that it didn't come to me when I was trying to think of a "naughty" word that starts with B. Apparently the Daily Mail doesn't think it's too bad either, since they printed the line without asterisks.

  6. I am from New Zealand, (and so share Lilymarlene's reaction to this "puzzle")... but a recent incident involving a Toyota ad seems to illustrate exactly the level of tabooness of the word "bugger" in NZ. It is acceptable enough that Toyota made an ad showing a farmer, his wife and the dog (so cute!) uttering it in response to accidents caused by the acceleration strength of the farm truck (NZ English = "ute") being advertised... but it is still taboo enough that people complained about the ad. Seems like this is probably about how taboo it is in the UK also? Here in the US where I am living I avoid using it, mostly out of (probably unjustified) fear that someone will ask me to define it.

  7. I got it, but my spouse uses it as a profanity that is not seen as such in the States. I likewise use it now as an alternative to F***. Most folks here do not hear it as a particularly foul word.

  8. In Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, the characters are looking at a bunch of cut-out letters from newspapers similar to those used to write some nasty anonymous letters.

    This particular pile, however, is a phony: someone points out that there aren't enough vowels to make any useful words, and someone else adds "not even a B and a dash."

  9. My first thought was bollocks, but I got "bugger" a few moments later. I'm surprised it's still a taboo... as an American teenager in the 70s, I learned "Oh, bugger" from Monty Python as the credits rolled over the Spanish Inquisitors. I had no idea back then that it was truly naughty in Britain!

  10. Isn't this only "taboo" in polite circles? When having tea with the vicar, I would avoid using "bugger". But then, when drinking with mates I would quite happily refer to myself as "a bit of a fat c*** these days".

  11. You should read more Pratchett. :) ‘Bugger off’ was obvious to me as well, although I was surprised they censored it. Salutations from Poland.

  12. “Bugger” is a strange word and I am sure everybody knows its true meaning. Not only is it dismissive as in “bugger off”, or exasperation when something goes wrong ”Bugger it-I have cut my finger!” but it can be a term of endearment” He was a friendly old bugger” or “How are you, you old bugger-I haven’t seen you for a long time?”.

    I used to attend French evening classes and we were taught by a young French girl, who also taught at a local public school. Her colloquial English was very good and one day she was telling us “I told him to bugger off”, so I felt t necessary to warn her that it was an expression to be used with care and not suitable in the presence of her Head Master!

  13. Just about anything can be used as a term of "endearment" if one puts you old in front of it.

  14. I've reali{s/z}ed that I have had a puzzle for BrE speakers (though I didn't call it a 'puzzle' and I gave the answer immediately--it was back in the days before the blog had a readership). It's back here.

  15. As a child, it was very common to hear "Bug Off!" as a way of saying "Leave me alone." Not at all taboo, rather something a child might be incouraged to say in place of retaliation.

  16. The orthographically more economical bollox, popular with graffiti-artists working in a hurry late at night on the railway/railroad, would have fitted but wouldn't have been idiomatic. BTW, I have seen the much more elegant, pseudo-French bolloques. Much tittering in our French-class at school in the 1960s when we encountered the apparently not-at-all obscene pauvre bougre. Actually, I reckon BrE bugger can be used without sexual overtones, though it's best avoided. There is also bog off which isn't to be confused with bogof, the Tesco online store's acronym for buy one; get one free.

  17. I think that if someone called me a 'bleeder' I'd be too confused to be insulted. I've never heard that as an insult or otherwise.

  18. I knew it was bugger right away. Never heard anyone actually say it though.

  19. I am an old American man, never left Nevada in 70 years, but I saw b***** off and read bugger off.

  20. Haven't left Nevada in 70 years?
    Far out! That's impressive, or disturbing, I can't tell which.

  21. I share in what lynneguist said and also read bollocks off rather then bugger off. But don't think I've ever heard anyone day bollocks off???? Really don't know why I was thinking that

  22. In response to Peter - there are plenty of Americans who, whilst being familiar with the word, don't know its meaning. I have caused myself no end of entertainment by explaining it and watching their faces - having come accross it in British films and the like, they assume the word is fairly innocuous, and the definition comes as quite a surprise.

    Other words known but often not understood in America - "bollocks", "tosser" and "wanker".

  23. That Toyota TV advertisement for a light truck/utility vehicle (or "ute" like jute without the j) single-handedly revived the use of the word bugger in New Zealand, much to the delight of everyone except mothers and school teachers. Most delighted were probably Toyota and their ad agency...
    In a similar vein:

  24. ps 'cuse my ignorance, but when someone refers to a ho as "nappy-headed" what do they mean? I gather a fellow got into hot water using the expression on a US sports related show.

  25. Nappy-headed means having (possibly unkempt) tightly curled/kinky hair, as is typical of people of Black African descent. So, Imus' comments were both racial and sexual slurs.

  26. Crikey! No wonder he's for the high-jump.
    The phrase had me picturing prostitutes, with babies, walking the street.

  27. My relationship with the word 'bugger' is kind of odd, I think, because my earliest (and for a long time my only) contact with the word was in the Orson Scott Card novel Ender's Game, where the insectoid aliens (technical name: Formics) were referred to in slang as 'buggers'.

    Which meant I was somewhat confused the first time I tried to use it with a language filter that blocked it.

  28. I response to 'Ginger Yellow' - April 10 - I do agree. Read this - 'Letter to the editor of The Economist'- published December 22. 2007


    "Mind your language

    SIR – Your review of a book on German politics mentioned a debate in which Joschka Fischer, when he was a young member of the Green Party, called the president of the Bundestag an “asshole” (“Local hero”, December 1st). Herr Fischer almost certainly used the German word Arschloch. Given the native spelling, and your newspaper's inclination to follow British practice, might I suggest that “arsehole” would have been a better—and, to these ears, more euphonious—rendering? Inexplicably, your style guide is silent on this particular point of usage.

    Jakob Whitfield



    I'm a Dane by the way.
    You have to watch quite a few British films to get the hang of
    the REAL english language. Preferably with english subtitles.
    May I recommend 'Trainspotting' and
    'The Full Monty'. Generally, films by Ken Loach will get you very near everyday british-english language.

  29. I think American assumptions about b--r probably have something to do with the sound of the word. I mean, think about the other virulent English cursewords--sh*t, b*tch, f*k, ass, plus one that is either never used in America or is extraordinarily taboo (I only encountered it at 18, in a British book, by implication). Not a two-syllable word in the lot. Furthermore, all of them have some explosive or hissing sound in them.

    Contrast that with a word that has the same rhythm as "bother", a word used frequently by a certain bear of very little brain. Well, I ask you! Does that sound like an offensive word?

  30. I feel that in the US, 'bugger' can be affectionate. As in, 'Aw, he's a cute little bugger!' referring to a baby. I assume this use of the word is non-existent in the UK.

  31. My first encounter with "bugger" was also Orson Scott Card.

    Fortunately my later encounters included enough context to let me know it was a curse/cuss and was completely unrelated to the Formics.

    I immediately thought of bugger to go with off. I didn't even notice (consciously) how many asterisks were in the quote, probably because in casual censorship that number can be random.

    I might have come up with bollocks instead if it were not accompanied by off.

    Of course I was probably helped in recognizing bugger off by having watched the entirety of Stephen Fry's Kingdom

    In regards to bugger's "actual meaning", when used as an interjection it really doesn't have one, (IMO) anymore than fuck does. When used as interjections swears seem (to me) to have only connotation and zero denotation.

  32. In my home town of Nottingham in the East Midlands of England (Think Robin Hood and Sherif of) there was (probably still is) a semi-respectable alternative bogger.

    The OED has dialect bogger sort of bespoke cobbler who visits clients rather than them visiting him. So it could be a simple substitution like darn for damn. Alternatively, it's substituting a vowel as in Irish feck.

    As far as I can remember, bogger was always a noun. You couldn't tell someone to bogger off.

    [My spell-checker really doesn't like this word. It keeps substituting bigger.

    Bogger was (? is) an insult, but a milder one than bugger. On the other hand, I don't think it could be used in endearing way one often hears for the use of bugger.

  33. in the endearing way one often hears for the use of bugger

    Having written this, I gave it a little more thought. It would be hard to find a data-bank to check but my impression is that bugger collocates with adjectives that are ostensively negative in some way. I don't think anyone says You brave bugger! or She's an adorable bugger.

    However, I do hear You crafty bugger! (in grudging admiration) He's a daft bugger (in affectionate pity) and Peter's examples with old bugger.

    Coming from a region between the North and the South of England, I don't share Stephen Jones's sense that You bugger can be a straightforward term of endearment. To me, it's semantically offensive, but may be pragmatically deployed with all offence stripped away, to leave an implication of something like affection.

  34. It's a term I (CdnE) wouldn't use in a polite setting and in fact I only use rarely, in more extreme situations such as if I've been suddenly injured and just as easily might say f***.

    I have actually wondered a few times if people who do use it casually don't know its meaning, or if they do know and just don't care, perhaps that the implication has softened and isn't really there anymore?

    I did ask one person who it turns out used it as an equivalent to 'Shoo fly, don't bother me' (bugger = bug/insect) but I usually don't ask.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)