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'Bloody' still banned in Britain

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April November 30, 2008 07:15 PM

While our media have to deploy the f-word to attract official attention, in England all it takes to offend is bloody -- even though nobody has ever connected the word conclusively to anything offensive.

Last week, the Guardian reported that

A cheeky ad by the Sun gloating about Britain winning more medals than Australia at the Beijing Olympics, using a twist on Australia "Where the bloody hell are you?" tourism, has been banned by the advertising regulator.
The ad featured as a giant billboard on a truck comparing Britain's 19 Beijing gold medals alongside Australia's 14 with the strapline "Where the bloody hell were you?"

Rupert Murdoch's News Group argued that the ad was a "light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek, and gentle ribbing" of Australia. But the British Advertising Standards Authority said bloody was a swearword, not to be blazoned on buses for children to read.

Bloody is far more acceptable in Australia, but even there, the original tourist ad catchphrase -- "Where the bloody hell are you?" -- was hard for some to swallow. Prime Minister John Howard defended its use, but wouldn't repeat it on the air: "I'm not somebody who uses that expression, certainly not on radio," he told an interviewer in 2006.

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Rules and realities of English usage from Boston Globe Ideas columnist Jan Freeman.
Jan Freeman, a former Boston Globe editor, has been writing the weekly column The Word since 1997. E-mail her at

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