Twain's book appeared in 1883. The penultimate sentence in chapter X, Completing My Education,

These people brought up their lantern, then, of course; and as we backed and filled to get away, the precious family stood in the light of it--both sexes and various ages--and cursed us till everything turned blue?

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    Check Sven Yargs answer here for earlier examples. Jul 7 at 23:43
  • @KillingTime: Why would you not VTC as dup? Clearly the answer sought here has been fully covered there. Jul 8 at 1:36
  • @FumbleFingers — That doesn’t answer it. Not a dupe. Back soon. Jul 8 at 2:00
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    @TinfoilHat: Is Twain's 1883 work the first to connect cursing and turning blue? My initial comment on the earlier Q links to people in the United States were certainly referencing blue talk by the 1840s, which looks to me like an answer to the OP here anyway - but Sven Yargs's excellent Answer goes in to much greater detail. Jul 8 at 2:25
  • @FumbleFingers — If you reopen this, I can add the one thing missing from the “duplicate” — the etymology that ties turning the air blue (1867) to blue streak (1830 Kentucky slang), which refers to lightning — not harlot dresses, battlefields, fire, brimstone, smoke, sulfur, etc. Jul 8 at 14:05

1 Answer 1


Is Mark Twain's "Life on the Mississippi" the first to connect cursing and turning blue?

No. There are earlier examples:

The OED's earliest record is

P8. to turn (also make) the air blue: to swear profusely, to use obscene language (cf. sense A. 10b).

1867 Chronicle (Univ. Michigan) 9 Nov. 1/3 If a crowd of ‘roughs’ go careering through the streets at midnight, turning the air blue with curses.

And earlier:

10. colloquial. a. Coarse, obscene; (esp. of a joke, story, film, etc.) having sexual content, pornographic.

1818 ‘A. Burton’ Adventures Johnny Newcome 31 Blush, Pluto! Blush as brimstone blue! This bluer Town can boast like you A ‘facilis descensus’ too.

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