George Bernard Shaw created a sensation when Pygmalion opened in London in 1914.
He had Eliza Doolittle utter the words “Walk! Not bloody likely”. For a long time later, people who wanted to use the word bloody were heard to use “not Pygmalion likely”.
Shaw commented in 1914: “I do not know anything more ridiculous than the refusal of some newspapers to print the word bloody, which is in common use by four fifths of the English nation.”
I thought about Shaw when I watched a television commercial wherein the contentious word was used.
A car driver in the commercial commented “bloody caravans” as he was stuck behind one. A boy in the back seat then repeated “bloody caravans”. Obviously there were complaints, because later versions have the driver say simply “caravanners” and the boy repeat “caravanners”.
My big dictionary recorded the use of the word in the year 1000. Shakespeare used it and Dickens used it a couple of hundred years later. The word had two uses, one involving the use of blood, and the other as an intensifier.
Tourism Australia had a campaign with model Lara Bingle asking “where the bloody hell are you?”. It was one of our more unforgettable campaigns.
The Bulletin in 1904, described the word as “the Australian adjective”. The word was considered respectable in Britain until about 1750. Then it was considered profane.
In the 20th century it was seen as nothing more than an intensifier, i.e. “it’s bloody hot” or “it’s bloody cold”.
It is now used mostly in Australia and New Zealand and surprisingly little used in America. Americans seem to use it only when making fun of the British.
Many people have tried to describe where the word comes from. Some say it came from the Dutch bloote.
In the 1940s, an Australian divorce court judge held the word bloody was so entrenched in the Australian language it was no longer regarded as swearing.