This question Why do we talk a blue streak?, had me thinking—why do we use blue for rude ?

Dictionary.com has it: lewd, indecent recorded from 1840 "(in form blueness, in an essay of Carlyle's)" and a link to blue laws, which means almost the exact opposite, but no origin.

Source: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/blue

  • THough I don't think this is relevant to your actual question, the 'blue' in 'blue streak' does not have the connotation/meaning of 'rude'. It just means 'fast' (as far as I know). – Mitch May 27 '11 at 21:06
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    @Mitch, one of the answers mentioned "curse a blue streak" which does have - that's what made me think – mgb May 27 '11 at 21:10
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    I hadn't seen that question/answer yet. I disagree with that answer in that particular respect. The negativity in 'to curse a blue streak' comes from 'curse', not 'blue'. – Mitch May 27 '11 at 21:14
  • @mitch, I think you're right "blue" is just the emphasis. Now - where does blue (as in blue movie) come from? – mgb May 27 '11 at 21:16
  • It seems the question has changed from "rude" to "obscene" (as shown on your comment and answer). Could you update the title and question body to reflect this? – Andrew T. Jul 20 '17 at 3:53

According to Green's Dictionary of Slang, in the eighteenth century itinerant Parisian booksellers covered their seditious or obscene material with blue paper; the first citation for blue meaning obscene comes from 1818.

Farmer and Henley note the French Bibliotheque Bleu, a series of books "of very questionable character", although they also suggest it may be derived from the "blue dress of harlots", which seems to me somewhat less likely.

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    "Bibliothèque Bleue" just means popular paperbacks (ie. pulp fiction), it doesn't imply rude. And the idea that rude books would be printed on blue paper is a bit of a stretch. I suppose the whole French = exotic and erotic, therefore all French literature = rude could be an explanation. Like the 70s idea that all of Sweden is in the porn business! – mgb May 27 '11 at 21:24
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    @Martin Beckett -- the 70s idea was that all of the porn business was in Sweden, not the other way around, which because of the laws at the time, wasn't far from true. Remember Splash, John Candy was pretending to be from the "Swedish Institute" and all he knew how to say was "Hej, älskling, jag har en tolv-tums penis" ? – Malvolio Jul 10 '11 at 17:07

I have read that 'Blue' is from early striptease or lewd theatre in London. Girls could be on stage naked, provided they were lit by blue lighting, which diminished any sense of movement.

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    This would be better if you could include a reference source for this. – KillingTime May 2 at 13:10
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    Hi Simon, welcome to EL&U. Note that this site is a bit different from other Q&A sites: an answer here is expected to be authoritative, detailed, and explain why it is correct - preferably by citing published evidence in support of your proposition. You can edit your post to add this detail; for further guidance, see How to Answer. Make sure you also take the EL&U Tour :-) – Chappo May 2 at 13:15

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