English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

During the Battle of the Bulge, when asked to surrender, US General McAuliffe answered with the single word "Nuts!"

I know that "nuts" can be a crude way to refer to testicles ("He got hit in the nuts by the baseball") but I've always thought of the exclamation ("Aw, nuts!") as anodyne. Would a kid saying it in the 1940s have had his mouth washed out with soap?

share|improve this question
up vote 3 down vote accepted

According to EtymOnline, by the 1950s "nuts" was taboo (or on its way):

Connection with the slang "testicle" sense has tended to nudge it toward taboo. "On the N.B.C. network, it is forbidden to call any character a nut; you have to call him a screwball." ["New Yorker," Dec. 23, 1950] "Please eliminate the expression 'nuts to you' from Egbert's speech." [Request from the Hays Office regarding the script of "The Bank Dick," 1940] This desire for avoidance accounts for the euphemism nerts (c.1925).

By the 1940s, "nuts" was on its way out. In its place, the euphemism nerts was apparently created.

share|improve this answer
So, it's bad to call someone a nut but calling him a dick is just fine? – Malvolio Aug 19 '11 at 21:40
@Malvolio: It was slang for detective – simchona Aug 19 '11 at 21:42
I knew that, I was just pointing out the irony. – Malvolio Aug 19 '11 at 21:46
@Malvolio: Sorry, sarcasm doesn't translate well via text. But you're right--EtymOnline says the word "dick" was pejorative in the late 1800s even. – simchona Aug 19 '11 at 21:48
Pejorative, and even in 1940, slang for "penis". – Malvolio Aug 19 '11 at 21:56

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.