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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?

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1 Answer 1

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.

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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
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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

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