Dogs’ bollocks

A 16th century recipe you may not want to try at home.

Trebots @ Sunday April 10th 2005 22:51

Spanish is a weird language: a chicken, a gallina, is a coward, but the possession of huevos, its eggs, is a sign of courage. When a couple of years ago I went back to England to work with a bunch of spotty, 4-eyed fenizens, I had similar problems figuring out some of the vocabulary introduced since my previous stay. One particularly ambiguous expression was "the dog's bollocks", which I now know means

something that is 'the best' or exceptional. eg "Daves new stereo is the dogs bollocks". Sometimes shortened to 'the dogs' or 'the bollocks' and often changed to similar sayings ie. 'the mutts nuts', 'the dogs danglies'.

Phrase Finder notes that

In most other contexts the word bollocks (meaning testicles) is used negatively:

- 'that's bollocks' -> 'that's rubbish'
- 'give him a bollocking' -> 'chastise him'
- 'He dropped a bollock' -> 'he made a mistake'

For reasons that aren't clear dog's bollocks, which have all the credentials to be thought badly of, are considered the top of the tree...

The 'dog's bollocks' seems to have originated in Britain in the late 1980s. At that time the scurrilous magazine Viz used the term frequently. It isn't clear that that is the origin though as Viz's writer's would latch onto any vaguely obscene street slang and print it.

Etymology Online dates the phrase to 1989, while Rake's Progress says that "Eric Partridge suggests it arose as a term for the printer's mark of a colon followed by a dash" and the BBC claims that

in the 1950s, construction kits like Meccano would be sold in boxes of various sizes. The list of contents which came with the standard size box would be headed 'Box, Standard' (which elided into 'bog standard' when spoken) and the larger box was the 'Box, Deluxe' which was spoonerised to create the phrase 'The Dog's B******s'.

I'll say cheers to that, but I wouldn't necessarily want to partake of the following, taken from Friar Agustín Farfán's Tractado breve de medicina, published in Mexico in 1592, and quoted in vol 1 of Cela's Diccionario Secreto:

Remedy enabling married men to have children and carry out their conjugal duties
From the beginning of the cure take half an ounce of this condiment when you want to go to bed at night and drink thereafter four ounces of very good wine. Take half a pound of good, peeled almonds, three ounces of fresh, peeled pine nuts, two ounces of the meat next to the kidneys or loins of the animals like small lizards called skinks [scincos], three ounces of very well-cooked hearts of dog and fox testicles, two ounces of grape liquor dregs [semilla de orujo], three drams each of long pepper [pimienta luenga] and cardamon, and sufficient white honey. Grind the above very well and mix them with the honey, soften the condiment on a glowing fire, and finally stir in two drams of Damascus [Diamoscho] spices, and take it every night, as I have said. Every night when you go to bed, spread this hot unguent all over your genitals (the testicles and the virile member), and wrap them in a hot hand-towel.

While eating bull's testicles is going out of fashion in Spain, the castration fetish crowd (shepherd, anyone?) are popularising meatballs elsewhere. But we're not going there.

  • Camilo José Cela (11) Camilo José Cela y Trulock, 1st Marquis of Iria Flavia (Spanish: [kaˈmilo xoˈse ˈθela]; 11 May 1916 – 17 January 2002) was a Spanish novelist, short story writer and essayist associated with the Generation of '36 movement. He was awarded the 1989 Nobel Prize in Literature "for a rich and intensive prose, which with restrained compassion forms a challenging vision of man's vulnerability".
  • Natural history (517) Natural history is the research and study of organisms including animals, fungi and plants in their environment, leaning more towards observational than experimental methods of study. It encompasses scientific research but is not limited to it, with articles nowadays more often published in science magazines than in academic journals.
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Categories: Empire, Languages, Les bourgeois

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  1. Dave Emmerson
    October 12th 2006 23:15

    Actually, the "Dogs Bollocks" are an incrementally better than the "Cat's whiskers" and the "Bee's knees" ("The Business"). It's as simple as that.

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