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We are writing a book on idioms for university students who study linguistics. Can we use the idiom "the dog's bollocks (=ace, brill, etc.)" in it? I personally like this idiom and find it quite interesting but the dictionary warns that it is very rude. Very rude is how much rude? As rude as dirty English or using it in a book seems ok?

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    If you don't understand how/when the idiom is used, and the tone it has when used, what are you going to say about it in your book on idioms?
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 10 at 12:38
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    It's the word "bollocks" that's rude. It's a swear word. It literally means "testicles". On the scale of offensiveness, it's about as rude as saying "shit". So, it's not hugely rude, but it's not something I would say in polite company, or use in formal English.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Jul 10 at 12:58
  • We have taken this idiom from the book called "A really British guide to English" which explains how to use this idiom. It says: rude way to say brilliant or fantastic (synonym for mutt's nuts) and gives an example. Commented Jul 10 at 13:01
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    Well, there's your answer. Yes, it's rude. It could offend someone. "nuts" is also slang for "testicles", and "mutt" is slang for a dog, a mongrel especially.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Jul 10 at 13:03
  • While testing the book, a student pointed to this fact that it us rude and I asked myself a question: "How much rude is it then? Rude enough not be used in books? Then why did the book print it? " And I decided to ask you, native speakees. Commented Jul 10 at 13:04

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Modern general-purpose dictionaries and other similar reference works don't censor their entries. For example, Collins has your exact idiom. (All bets are off for specialized reference works; I would not expect to see profanity in a children's dictionary or something documenting formal, technical vocabulary.)

Older works censored the worst words. For example, most editions of Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue had entries like "**** hooks" (with no indication the missing word is "cunt"). Other works (e.g., 1st edition OED) omitted such words entirely, as if they didn't exist. Publishers were forced to do this because of censorship laws at the time in Britain.

Assuming you're not publishing under similar rules, there's no reason to censor your book.

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  • I would say they are not "writing a book". They are compiling existing an alphabetical list of idioms.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 10 at 14:26
  • @Lambie We don't know that. A book on idioms would likely include more than a definition for each term (i.e., extended discussion), and it may not even be alphabetical.
    – Laurel
    Commented Jul 10 at 15:05
  • Normally, we'd say a dictionary of idioms. Like these: google.com/… OR it may just be a glossary.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 10 at 15:55
  • 300+ pages. With texts, exercises, history of creation where we can trace it, etc. Commented Jul 10 at 15:58
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Asking if the phrase is acceptable for print is really no different to asking if it is acceptable to say it out loud - clearly some people do say it, but it is considered rude by some.

It certainly is already in print - Google Books returns plenty of results, the first of which is a compendium of British 'adult' humour comic Viz titled 'Viz: The Dog's Bollocks' back in 1989, but for context, the periodical comic is normally placed on the 'top shelf' on newsstands indicating that it is for an adult audience.

Cambridge Dictionary currently marks the word 'bollocks' as "offensive", which is subjective, but a general guide to suggest that you ought not use it in a 'mixed' audience, or polite company.

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  • If a group of people are friends and having dinner together and someone says something, another person might very well say "Bollocks! I think etc.". It's very conversational unless you have some formal meeting with someone...
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 10 at 14:24
  • Thank you all for your answers. Have a nice day to you all! Commented Jul 10 at 15:58

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