THE DOG’S BOLLOCKS.

Such is a typographers’ term for the symbol :— according to Nick Martens in his hilarious The Secret History of Typography in the Oxford English Dictionary:

Citing usage from 1949, the OED calls this mark the dog’s bollocks, which it defines as, “typogr. a colon followed by a dash, regarded as forming a shape resembling the male sexual organs.” This is why I love scrounging around the linguistic scrap heap that is the OED. I always come across a little gold. And by “gold,” I mean, “vulgar, 60-year-old emoticons.” …
Browsing the OED is a tantalizing experience because it provides windows into so many obscure corners of history. But since the citations are small and fragmentary, they invite the imagination to fill in the blank spaces. Take this 1688 quote for bake: “when Letters stick together in distributing… This is called the Letter is Baked.” So we learn that, when printing, the physical pieces of type occasionally stuck together, but we’re left to wonder why this happened, how severe it was, and how printers corrected it. Did baking ruin the type? Did each printer have his own method to prevent baking, a trade secret he passed down only to his apprentice? Did some Elizabethan Edison develop a method for casting type that eliminated baked letters altogether?

He closes with a wonderful definition for “To beat fat,” which I will let you discover for yourselves. (Yes, it’s a superficial and somewhat childish piece, but surely we all have our superficial and childish side, and I figure we deserve a respite after all those scholarly exegeses of foreign vocabulary.)

Comments

  1. shakespeherian says:

    <3

  2. I’d always thought the dog’s bollocks had a similar meaning to the cat’s pyjamas. At any rate, that’s how I’ve heard it used in England, but according to Wikipedia:

    “Dog’s Bollocks Syndrome” can be used to describe an excessive use of technology or visual aid, such as in an enormous use of Flash animations on a website. It is derived from the question: “Why do dogs lick their bollocks?” (answer: “Because they can”). In a technological context, the question could be “Why has the web developer included a three-minute animated intro to this page?”, prompting the response: “Dog’s Bollocks Syndrome, mate. Because he can”.[citation needed]
    “I’m a palaeotypographist” uses more letters than “I study early typography” does.

  3. (Always supposing nobody is petty enough to actually count.)

  4. For the slow among us… how about an example of the colon followed by a dash? I’ve been staring out the window for five minutes, trying to think of how it could be used, but the cityscape has not provided an answer.

  5. I remember it was very popular at school, until I was about ten. We used it in place of a simple colon, to make a list:-
    1.
    2.
    3.

  6. I remember it was very popular at school, until I was about ten. We used it in place of a simple colon, to make a list:-
    1.
    2.
    3.

  7. how about an example of the colon followed by a dash?
    It was quite common in the 19th century (not that I’m implying anything about AJP’s age), but I’m not sure how to come up with examples given the limitations of search engines.

  8. Wouldn’t there be at least one example per page in any edition of Tristram Shandy that respects original typography?

  9. The mutt’s nuts:-
    Excellent – the highest quality.
    Origin
    This is a variant of ‘the dog’s bollocks’ (that) originated in the UK in the 1990s.

  10. The mutt’s nuts:-
    Excellent – the highest quality.
    Origin
    This is a variant of ‘the dog’s bollocks’ (that) originated in the UK in the 1990s.

  11. I’m not sure how to come up with examples
    Pick a likely work. Search in Gutenberg. Find corresponding passage in Google Books.

  12. John Emerson says:

    Something like the “hellbox” in the article (which is where defective type is kept until it is melted down) plays a role in Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt”. At the end of the play the “button molder” comes to collect Peer’s defective soul, which he will melt down to make new souls with.

  13. the limitations of search engines
    I thought using the ascii codes together would work. It doesn’t. Its still oddly interesting – type in the ascii code eg Þ for thorn, and google with s search converts it to the symbol Þ in the search box and finds something. Some symbols find something, some don’t. There’s probably some sort of filter going on, but I’m not sure on what basis its working.
    PS For the fundamentalists amongst you, the ascii symbol for the devil (ʚ of course) is ʚ

  14. Ah well, that fell a bit flat. The asciis have turned into real code. For those of you who care, type & then # then the number then a semicolon
    Thorn’s number is 222 and you know what the devil’s is.

  15. mollymooly says:

    The typographic sense of “dog’s bollocks” is one that came to light in the course of the BBC “Balderdash & Piffle” Wordhunt appeal mentioned by hat in 2006.
    Mark Lawrenson popularised “puppy’s privates”, another pseudo-euphemism.

  16. John Peacock says:

    When I was working with a typesetter in the early nineties (twenty-five years of service in the London typesetting companies that collapsed in 1990-1), he referred to an exclamation mark as a “dog’s cock”, which I suppose is related.

  17. I thought it was Hitler (yemakh shmoy) who only had one ball.

  18. I thought it was Hitler (yemakh shmoy) who only had one ball.

  19. Hm. I still can’t figure out the point of it. How is a list introduced by :- different than a list introduced by:?

  20. Just different conventions. Our range of punctuational possibilities has (sadly) shrunk in the last couple of centuries.

  21. According to the theory of punctuated equilibrium.

  22. Excellent – the absolute apex. 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 of badly, are considered the top of the tree. Dog do enjoy licking them of course, but there’s no evidence that links the coining of this phrase to that. It is most likely that this is just a nonsense phrase, coined because it sounds good. In that it would join a long list of earlier nonsense phrases, e.g. ‘the cat’s pyjamas’, ‘the bee’s knees’ etc.

  23. we have a saying, nokhoin duu oirtokh, means the dogs’ sound is getting closer when describe something approaching, an anniversary or destination

  24. We have a saying, you’re barking up the wrong tree. It means you believe in an incorrect theory.

  25. We have a saying, you’re barking up the wrong tree. It means you believe in an incorrect theory.

  26. investigating

  27. investigating

  28. Dog’s Bollocks Syndrome” can be used to describe an excessive use of technology or visual aid, such as in an enormous use of Flash animations on a website.

  29. Gordon Mackley says:

    ‘Dog’s Bollocks’ is a British expression. It goes back to pre-war Britain when young lads (and fathers) could amuse themselves bolting together pieces of metal called ‘Meccano’. There was a range of boxes of mixed items. The smallest one was the ‘Standard Box’ which was corrupted to ‘Bog Standard’. The largest was the ‘De Luxe Box’ which got corrupted to ‘Dog’s Bollocks’. Thus ‘Dog’s Bollocks’ was the ultimate, the best.

  30. If you ask me, that’s bollocks.

  31. If you ask me, that’s bollocks.

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