Hell’s bells and buckets of blood

Cursing has its fashion moments. Some are good, some are the verbal equivalent of peasant-style smocks with frills. You look back and think – did anyone ever really say that?

My mum used the one in the title – I’m not sure I heard it spill forth form the lips of anyone else, but it’s colourful, you have to admit.

Much more common, though, was the ‘damn, blast and bugger’ combo.

As a child I had no idea what bugger meant and I’m not sure it would have made any difference if I did. I’d probably have reacted the same way that I did when I read the book my parents placed on my pillow to introduce me to sex. That left me feeling rather sick and hoping I would only have to do it once, like having an operation to cure a terrible affliction.

I kind of imagined that enduring one bout of sex enabled a woman to store up child-making capacity and babies would pop out later, like occasional eruptions of acne.

As it turned out I didn’t have to suffer the acne outbreaks. And sex turned out to be something altogether different from what the book led me to believe.

And sex leads me right back to cursing.

My in-house American went to a junior high school where one boy carried a case around full of knives and drugs and guns. Although most kids didn’t use the f-word, some, like the dealer, did.

A big, gutsy female teacher, tired of hearing it spoken, one morning shocked them all by writing F.U.C.K. on the board.

She then went on to spell out what it ‘meant’.





Ha! I never heard that one.

She wanted the kids to know what they were saying. I doubt it changed many gun-toting drug-dealing kids’ behaviour.

But it’s interesting how people tend not to know what they’re saying when they curse. In the very old days, for example, when ‘God blind me’ was worthy of a detour to Hell, people corrupted it to ‘blimey’. How innocuous does that sound now?

And I always thought that tw-t where the ‘–’ is an ‘a’ was just a more expletive form of twit. Oh dear.

But some sheltered people in the days of my youth didn’t even know what word the ‘f’ stood for.

My mum, for example.

Although she worked in a school full of teenaged boys, the f-word was never uttered in her presence. Nor mine, as far as I can recall. In fact, I reckon I reached the age of 30 or so before hearing it spoken, in full, in real life.

Yes, people said, ‘eff-off’ – but that was about as close as it got.

So, anyway, back to my mum’s ignorance in the field of ‘f’.

It was my friend Maureen, my fount of all knowledge on all things forbidden (she had two gorgeous brothers for added insight) to whose lot it fell to explain it to my mum.

‘What does f-off actually mean?’ asked my innocent, well-brung up mum of my worldly-wise friend.

Maureen put on a nervous expression. She was good at this kind of thing.

‘Ooh, Mrs E, it means … er, it means … er, fly off!’

My mum just looked a tiny bit puzzled behind her grown-up, meant-to-look-knowing nod.

And I thought of that, yesterday. I was ranting (just a bit) about anachronisms in film and TV. About those happy, ignorant young script-writers who assume that everyone, from time immemorial, said f (and I don’t mean fly), in full, as often as some verbally challenged people do now.

Um – no. They just didn’t.

Hang on, hang on! Don’t get all ‘yeah, she went to a Catholic all-girls school run by nuns, what does she know?’ on me.

For a start, convents are notorious for producing badly-behaved girls. Marianne Faithfull – I rest my case.

And some people I knew, like my friend Maureen’s brothers, were definitely not angels. In fact Stephen – well, least said soonest mended. Gorgeous but a bit wild and very interested in sex. Snogged you at the drop of a hat. Hands like the proverbial octopus.

He smoked, too. Offered – what a vignette it was – my mum a cigarette in our kitchen once. I’ll never forget the look on her face. He must have been all of 17.

But I never heard a word worse than ‘shit’ pass the lips of those boys. And that was usually greeted with shock all round.

Because everyone else said sugar.

Like flip and heck, sugar was a safe alternative to the full fat ‘shit’. You knew the real word but were too polite – or scared – to use it.

So when I hear a nice, middle class girl, or boy, or woman, or man, in a film set in the fifties or sixties or even much of the seventies, eff-ing away like mad, I turn off, mentally. It breaks the spell for me.

Bugger. Yes.

Damn. Yes.

Blast. Yes.

Bloody hell. Yes.

Sugar, flippin-heck, hecketty thump (um, maybe that was just a local variation) – hello.

But, please, young writers, spare us the f-word. If only for the sake of authenticity.

And – don’t worry about the hell’s bells thing.  Just stick with ‘buggeration’ and you’ll be fine.



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10 Responses to Hell’s bells and buckets of blood

  1. Christa says:

    Hell’s bells etc. must be a Catholic thing: I knew it well. My brother and I (aged 8-ish?) once invented a new word, ‘fuggit’. We were totally baffled when our father took us to one side and said, in his most authoritarian voice, “Don’t let me EVER hear you using that word again…..” And I once told my mother that my best friend used a very good word (“bollocks”) to express outrage. You can imagine my mother’s face. I had no idea what it meant, but she did!
    As always, an excellent blog!


    • Hallo! Glad you enjoyed it. My mum actually said Hell’s Bells a lot and – shock – sometimes I still do, I don’t think I realised till I wrote this, but with the right emphasis it’s quite satisfying! I love your ‘fuggit’ – brilliant! Good to hear corroboration of these things, sometimes I wonder if I just make it all up…


  2. EllaDee says:

    Your post took me a meanderous trip down memory lane… I had an [I think] ordinary childhood where the family employed the usual mild swear words even in my hearing, without me parroting them back. It wasn’t until my stepmother the OTT paragon of virtue came on the scene that swearing became interesting. Even “shut up” was banned. Flippin’ heck, blimey were her preference… I would have just not bothered. We all carried on regardless, mostly out of her range… taking up Dad’s calm advice to 16 year old me “just don’t let her hear you say it”, when he overheard me uttering the f-word at some frustrating thing. I never heard the f-word from Dad’s mouth until I was in my 30’s. Now at the ripe old ages of 48-ish (me) and 71 (him) I do on occasion of great vexation (often in regard to same stepmother’s behaviours) utter it in a conversation with him… we’re both grown ups.
    The f-word for me has lost any power it had. I use it on occasion, and other people using it in person, on TV, film or written elicits no response at all… The c-word I never use (and have never heard from my Dad), and it does get my attention but I hope neither never changes. I try to maintain some standards 😉


    • What an interesting angle you have there! After I put it up I thought – oh-oh – soon they’ll all be telling me they swore like troopers but so far not (I had some comments on Facebook). As for the ‘c’ word – I decided not to dignify it with a mention – I hope it never becomes as ubiquitous as the f-word. I did almost forget bloody hell, and a friend reminded me that ruddy was another common curse-lite word. I too have been known to use the f-word in extremes but I annoy myself when I do, just because I feel like it’s a lazy and aggressive way out.I had an interesteing experience with substitution – the first time I saw Four Weddings and a Funeral was on a plane – the whole cabin was roaring with laughter (this was a flight back from Zambia) and it wasn’t till I saw it again on DVD that I discovered it had been dubbed over – wherever they said ‘fuck’ they had changed it to ‘bugger’!! So at the beginning where everyone is waking up and realising they are late and saying f, everyone is saying bugger. It made no difference whatsoever to the feeling of the thing. And btw, I think my age (a little older than you but not enough so we can’t be friends!!) probably means I was a little less exposed to it than you… 😉


  3. Christa says:

    Ah, but then you miss out on the wonderful “fuckadoodledoo!” Doesn’t work quite as well with bugger….


  4. Well written. Here fEck is pretty much normal and acceptable, just don’t replace the e with a u


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