Final Word

Motsoeneng, the SABC’s dog’s bollocks or bollocking priest?


Hlaudi Motsoeneng has caused a lot of ‘bollocks’ (as in trouble and nonsense) at and for the SABC, but is he a worthy bull or a priest?

The description by a friend of mine of all the controversy surrounding Motsoeneng as chief operating officer at the SABC as a lot of “bollocks”, as if it were a euphemism for ‘bulls …’ got me thinking about the word.

It is now generally accepted that it is indeed close to a swear word, is normally used in a derogatory way, and as a reference to testicles. The most common meaning of the word is given as ‘nonsense’, as in ‘talking bollocks’; messing something up, as in ‘made a bollocks out of it’; the malfunction of an operation, as in to ‘drop a bollock’; to slander or defame some-one, as in getting a bollocking from a teacher for not doing your homework; and as a reinforcing adjective, as in ‘he hasn’t a bollocking clue!’ or ‘the bollocking dog kept me awake all night’.

First use

‘Bollocks’ is currently regarded as quite a vulgar epithet – just short of a swear word – to the extent that as recently as 2006 a trader in the UK was slammed with a heavy fine for printing it on T-shirts. It was under the Public Order Act 1986, which refers to language “deemed to cause harassment, alarm or distress”.

Yet the first recorded use of the word in English was in the English translation of the Bible, the Wycliffe's Bible of 1382, where Leviticus XXII:24 was translated to read: “Al beeste, that ... kitt and taken a wey the ballokes is, ye shulen not offre to the Lord..." (any beast that is cut and taken away the bollocks, you shall not offer to the Lord, i.e. castrated animals are not suitable as sacrifices).

It first made it into printed dictionaries in the Penguin English Dictionary of 1965, and in the Oxford English Dictionary in a 1972 supplement.

The reason for this is probably to be found in the fact that from the 14th century onwards in everyday vernacular it was used in reference to testicles and by the mid-17th century started acquiring coarse figurative meanings.

For some time during this period, bollocks (sometimes also spelled ‘ballocks’) it was used as a slang word for clergymen with a reputation for talking nonsense.

Roots of term

It surprised me to see how much debate there has been on the internet as to how the word acquired its vulgar meaning. But besides vague guesses that it might have Germanic, Celtic or even Irish roots, nobody really knows where the word originates from.

Since it made its first recorded appearance in that translation of the Bible into English in the late 14th century my guess would go in the direction of Greek and/or Latin. The similar sounding word ‘bucolic’ – meaning pastoral, rustic – comes from the Greek boukolikoa via Latin bucolicus, originally from Greek’s boukolos, meaning ‘cowherd, herdsman’, from bous being a cow, plus -kolos meaning tending.

Be that as it may, ‘bollocks’ proved itself to be very versatile, making its presence felt in many expressions and proverbs, and not always denoting something negative. In this regard just think of the expression ‘now that is dog’s bollocks’ for something exceptional.

Final word

When considering how chuffed Hlaudi Motsoeneng was with himself as a “miracle maker” telling the media that there actually was no SABC until he arrived on the scene, the final word on the matter has to go to him as being “chuffed to his bollocks” – an expression coined by Nobel laureate Harold Pinter, and used to describe someone who is very pleased with himself.

by Piet Coetzer

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