The Dog’s Bollocks

Over at The Bygone Bureau, Nick Martens has been browsing the Oxford English Dictionary and meandering through words tagged “typogr.”—typographical terminology. Now that all references to movable type are from a bygone age, a printer’s term from the 1970s is just as archaic as one from the 17th century: hell box, tympan, turtle, fly the frisket.

My favorite entries are those that illuminate some archaic mechanical process, such as rounce: “The handle of the winch by which the spit and wheel are turned so as to run the carriage of a hand-press in and out.” Reading this, I can see the grizzled old printer furiously cranking a giant, iron, Rube-Goldberg-esque contraption, pushing thick sheets of papyrus through the inky press. The fact that I don’t have any idea what the machine was made of or what it printed upon doesn’t matter so much as the brief flash understanding that comes from interacting with these discarded bits of our language.

The true teaser of his post, though, comes at the beginning, with this:

:—

It’s a printer’s mark called the dog’s bollocks, defined in the OED as “a colon followed by a dash, regarded as forming a shape resembling the male sexual organs.” Sadly, Martens doesn’t go on to explain its usage. But his description of it as a “vulgar, 60-year-old emoticon” is inspiring in its own way. I imagine emoticons and smileys are protected by the First Amendment, so I won’t waste space on that particular topic. Yet I can almost—almost—see where a keyboard shortcut for “the dog’s bollocks” would be an appropriate response to all sorts of things.

At first I imagined it as a sort of coughcoughbullshit! interjection, used the same way as “bollocks” by itself. But a quick Google search shows that the term actually means something admirable, top-notch, outstanding. Which is, when you think of it, even better. The world can always use more positivity. And while there’s always a place in online discourse for your standard “awesome!” or “eeeexcellent,” as cranky as I am on the topic of emoticons, once in a while I wouldn’t mind seeing a satisfied, understated :—.

(via Coudal Partners)

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