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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956). The American Language. 1921.

Page 155

Englishman, would have said bloody. The word Christer has two meanings in England. It is used by printers to designate an exclamation point, and by other people in a sense which I can best explain by illustration. A Harvard professor, an Englishman, was discussing a certain English journalist then in this country, and he said to me: ‘Oh, he’s a simply fearful Christer; preaches in chapel every Sunday, and all that.”’ Dirt, to designate earth, and closet, in the sense of a cupboard are seldom used by an Englishman. The former always suggests filth to him, and the latter has obtained the limited sense of water-closet.
  But the most curious disparity between the profane vocabulary of the two tongues is presented by bloody. This word is entirely without improper significance in America, but in England it is regarded as the vilest of indecencies. The sensation produced in London when George Bernard Shaw put it into the mouth of a woman character in his play, “Pygmalion,” will be remembered. “The interest in the first English performance,” said the New York Times, 62 “centered in the heroine’s utterance of this banned word. It was waited for with trembling, heard shudderingly, and presumably, when the shock subsided, interest dwindled.” But in New York, of course, it failed to cause any stir. Just why it is regarded as profane and indecent by the English is one of the mysteries of the language. It came in during the latter half of the seventeenth century, and remained innocuous for 200 years. Then it suddenly acquired its present abhorrent significance. Two etymologies have been proposed for it. By the one it is held to be synonymous with “in the manner of a blood,” i. e., of a rich young roisterer; this would make bloody drunk equivalent to as drunk as a lord. The other derives it from by our Lady. 63 But both theories obviously fail to account for its present disrepute. As drunk as a lord would certainly not offend English susceptibilites, and neither would by our Lady. An Englishwoman once told me that it grated upon her ears because it somehow suggested catamenia; perhaps this affords a clue to the current aversion to it among the polite. It is