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As a non-English native it took me years to grow up and understand, what meant "Never Mind the Bollocks" as the title of Sex Pistols album. Using "bollocks" as "rubbish", "crap" or what so ever took much more. And after that I somehow automatically bound "bollocks!" with Sex Pistols. Suddenly I understood, that it is so just in my world. Or isn't? Is there some etymology of the idiom(?) ? How old it is in English?

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Well, I'm a native speaker, and I still don't really know what "Never Mind the Bollocks" means, so perhaps OP can enlighten me. My best guess is it's a shorter way of saying something like "Don't bother with conventional society and all that old bollocks", but it is only a guess. –  FumbleFingers Sep 20 '11 at 22:04
    
Hmm, maybe it is hard to imagine for native speaker, that someone could listen to the English pop-music without understanding a word of it. As a teenager i had no English knowledge, but Sex Pistols was still cool enough. So, it took a time to get from dictionary word by word meaning (and bollocks=testicles connection, no other meanings), and it was enough as dirty arrogance or something. That was what i meant with understanding it, verbatim meaning. Now i understand it similarly as your guess and i thougth it is pretty common way to interpret the title. –  Wanradt Koell Sep 20 '11 at 23:48
    
Well I was a bit past being a teenager when it came out, and to be honest I didn't really get into the punk movement either as music or as an attitude to life. But it seemed very much defined as being "anti-music" (Sid Vicious wasn't much of a musician), so for all I know the bollocks we were being asked to ignore just meant other people's music. –  FumbleFingers Sep 21 '11 at 1:18
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50+ years, in my case. –  JeffSahol Sep 21 '11 at 1:35
    
An interesting though is the vulgar British English expression ' A good bollocking' meaning a severe telling off... In Tudor times there was a form of dagger, with two lobes on the handle, which with the handle itself. resembled male genatila, this was known as a Bollock knife. This knife was much used by footpads to rob people in the street. Thus if you had had such a hard time, you had had, a good bollocking, –  john Sep 21 '12 at 15:53
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3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The spelling "bollocks" is actually rather recent, the most common spelling before the mythic Sex Pistols' single was actually "ballocks". Further back in time the Old English form was "bealluc" (testicles) - from Old English "Beallu" (ball).

Ælfric (a prolific writer whose works are an important source for Old English) uses the term "beallucas" c. 1000 (this was absolutely not vulgar at the time and he also happily uses "ars").

Personally I'm tempted to conjecture that there might also have been some Norman influence because the French version is "Balloches" (small balls) and it's still used very commonly in French under this form for testicles (colloquial, not vulgar). "Alors ? T'as rien dans les balloches ?" (So ? Got nothing in the balls ?).

In addition, the surname "Baloche" (cf. the America Singer) is specifically rooted in Normandy. This time there is no allusion to the testicles. The origin instead is that "Balochers" were people in charge of a particular type of balance in which the weights were made of small balls.

It might well as well be the other way round however, because whereas the use of Baloche for balance is well attested in medieval French, its use (as "Balloches" with double 'L') for testicles seems to be a later English borrowing.

I'd definitely be interested if some OE or OF specialist could shed more light regarding what I surmise could be mutual influence.

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the most common spelling before the mythic Sex Pistols' single was actually "ballocks". That claim is bollocks. –  Jim Balter Mar 20 '11 at 21:39
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@Jim, I realise the phrasing is "bollocks". Reading it, you might conclude that the Pistols changed the spelling from "ballocks" to "bollocks". That's obviously untrue. However in the 19th century the dominant spelling was indeed "ballocks". I went through quite a few dictionaries and some of them, especially ancient ones, had only the "ballocks" entry and others had only "see ballocks" for the "bollocks" entry. I'll rephrase that in a moment when I have a better idea of when the second spelling came to dominate. –  Alain Pannetier Φ Mar 20 '11 at 22:36
    
@Jim, I got hold of the complete OED at last and it has both the ballocks and the bollocks entry. The latter's first quote is shown as 1744 and c. 1000 for the former. I've corrected the answer accordingly. Thanks for the (humorous) remark ! –  Alain Pannetier Φ Mar 22 '11 at 3:52
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@Jim Balter: Alain did say "a couple of centuries before". But as this NGram shows, ballocks was actually more common overall right up until the 70s. Bear in mind that bollocks had long been the more common British spelling, so obviously that's what the Sex Pistols would have gone with. They didn't start the spelling, but they may have been pivotal in popularising a British version over the American one for a change! –  FumbleFingers Sep 21 '11 at 1:28
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@Alain: Apologies if you want to stand pat, but I just reverted your last edit. So far as I'm concerned you were pretty much correct. Looking at just America, ballocks was more common right up until the mid-80s. The big difference is UK/US usage, and I bet the Sex Pistols were relevant to the fact that the US now follows UK usage. I'm pretty sure it's more British coarse slang anyway, regardless of spelling. –  FumbleFingers Sep 21 '11 at 1:35
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Etymonline provides a different etymology:

bollocks "testicles," 1744, see bollix. In British slang, as an ejaculation meaning "nonsense," recorded from 1919.

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+1 for etymology site –  Wanradt Koell Mar 20 '11 at 23:20
    
+1 for having bollocks and ejaculation in the same sentence. –  ogerard Apr 11 '11 at 23:42
    
Etymonline isn't, as I write. But whatever they say, bollocks does come from OE beallucas. Do we really need a first recorded instance to tell us when words like shit, crap, balls, bollocks were first used as interjections meaning Rubbish, nonsense!, rather than their scatalogical/genital "original" sense. It's not like the written use is going to have started anything, and it may have been around for generations in (possibly dialectal) "spoken contexts only". –  FumbleFingers Sep 21 '11 at 1:48
    
@FumbleFingers Etymonline is, and it says just what it is quoted as saying, except that "bollix" is a link to that entry, which mentions O.E. beallucas. As for what we "really need" -- we don't "really need" a lot of things, but we're fortunate to have them anyway. –  Jim Balter Oct 8 '11 at 4:15
    
@Jim Balter: I have no idea what you're getting at. In the UK bollix invariably occurs as bollix up, meaning to make a mess of. It may go back to 1919, but certainly this usage shot to prominence in WW2. The standard ejaculation has always been bollocks, and to me as a Brit, "Oh - bollix!" looks ridiculous. Anyway, Etymonline is, as you say. And on going there, I think it's ridiculous that they define bollocks with see [parvenu] bollix. –  FumbleFingers Oct 8 '11 at 4:45
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The Wikipedia article has a lot of background on the word, noting it dates in the written record back to 1382, and certainly has had the meaning "nonsense" at least since the nineteenth century.

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Thank you, i read from Wikipedia too. Just looked other views. And got too. –  Wanradt Koell Mar 20 '11 at 23:21
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protected by Hugo Sep 21 '12 at 18:33

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