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Dog's Bollocks

It is funny the things you come across when reading about punctuations.

I learned recently about what may be the earliest emoticon. It was interesting as I researched the information. I learned about history, typography, and how humans have changed their attitudes.

It is all about an archaic typographical mark consisting of a colon followed by an en dash or em dash. It appears like this : – or : — and is referred to as ‘dog’s bollocks’ because of its resemblance to testicles and a phallic organ.

Back when reading aloud to groups was much more common than reading to oneself, this punctuation was quite common and continued being used until the mid-twentieth century. It indicated a restful pause usually of one-and-a-half to two beats. It was often used prior to a list. This was helpful in distinguishing the length of pause while reading aloud.

Recently its use has been greatly discouraged. Most modern texts on punctuation say that there is never a blank space before a colon and always a blank space after a colon. How did this big change occur from normal usage to not being considered proper English in only two decades? I can only speculate as I have found no given reason in my research.

An interesting thing I came across in my search was a video. It showed a single page document that many consider the most important single document in American history. This document had more than a half dozen of this punctuation in it. The document in question is The United States Declaration of Independence. It was signed on July 4, 1776 and it announced that the thirteen American colonies, regarded themselves as thirteen newly independent sovereign states.

So, in other words, The United States Declaration of Independence is covered in dogs’ bollocks, nine of them to be precise. I would say that was interesting and somewhat funny. Others would probably categorize my ‘funny’ assessment as being disrespectful. Perhaps it is, but if someone were to be espousing The Declaration of Independence as a greatly noteworthy document containing nine sets of dog’s bollocks; I would have to laugh a bit.

All of this is easily researched and understandable. There is however, a question it brings up. Why would the founding fathers of the United States write such an important document in a way that would give it a bit of a giggle?

Was it not funny to them then? Has humor changed that much since the mid eighteenth century? Perhaps humor has changed considerably since then. Our language has certainly changed, both in structure and meaning.

I asked a few people their opinion on this and the most common answer I got was quite astounding. By far the most common opinion I heard was that it was not offensive to them because we are more puritanical today than they were. All I could think when people said this to me was, WTF?

If you have ever read the biographies of prominent figures of that time, you would recognize how strange and unexpected that answer was to me. George Washington wrote a book on proper etiquette. That man was a total puritanical nut by our standards today.

I can only speculate that people of that time where not as concerned about the minor BS that so often seems to plague us in today’s society. Have we become too thin skinned? Are we too concerned about political correctness? Can you imagine a great political document being written today that would have left itself open to such ridicule and childish amusement?

Personally I think it is because in those times, the beginning years of the United States, serious people were dealing with serious problems and did not have time for the minor BS. Today the people in charge seem to be worried about minor BS instead of dealing with serious issues. Of course that is just my opinion. That and a pound should almost get you a cuppa in the United Kingdom.

I used the pound there because that brings us back to the dog’s bollocks and the UK. In Great Britain and its associated countries, the term ‘dog’s bollocks’ is still used. It is slang and means ‘the best’, as in ‘That sports car is the dog’s bollocks.’ The people of the British Isles have a rich and colorful language. Many of our writers here on Stories Space are from there. They really are great at turning a phrase and reading their writing is usually the dog’s bollocks as far as I am concerned.

By the way, I learned something else in my research. The en dash (–) short-cut is Ctrl and Num-, that means push the control key and the minus key on the number pad. The em dash (—) short-cut is Ctrl Alt Num-.

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