Some years back, as I was sipping a quiet pint down the back of my local, one of the barmen, an old friend, came and perched by me. Picking up and flicking through the book I had been reading, a perceptive and popular analysis by two prominent American academics of ancient military disasters and the lessons they offer for modern strategists, he laughed.
'I like this. It says "bollixed".'
'No it doesn't,' I said, scrunching my face up to dismiss such an absurd idea.
'It does! Look!'
And indeed, to my astonishment, he stretched out his hand to show me page 144, dealing with the Second Punic War:
'Hannibal's daring march across the mountains and sudden arrival in the Po Valley bollixed Roman plans for a pincers attack on Spain and Africa: the Roman force sent to Spain was allowed to proceed, but an expeditionary force in Sicily under the consul Tiberius Sempronius - intended for a seaborne thrust at North Africa - was withdrawn to defend northern Italy.'
Yep. Bollixed. Spelt after the fashion of Roddy Doyle, no less. Had Professors Strauss and Ober been reading The Commitments, I wondered. I didn't wonder very long, to be fair, instead just filing this episode away under 'A' for 'anecdote'.
Until today. Mark Shea, over at his (professional Catholic) website, discussing the State of Israel, comments:
'I regard Israel as a secular nation state, not as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. I think it subject to the same rights and responsibilities under natural law that all nation states are subject to. I do not think it is the object of Special Revelation, much less the recipient of Special Privileges.
So I think views like the one expressed here are mischievous because they bollix up the political conversation with theological claims which I think form no part of the apostolic deposit of faith and are, emphatically, human tradition masquerading as revelation.'
There it is again. Bollix. Is this part of standard speech in American English?
A few years ago a report was commissioned in Britain for the likes of the BBC and the the Broadcasting Standards Commission in order to establish what words people found most offensive, and 'bollocks', rendered in its traditional British manner, fell in ninth place, dangling between 'prick' and 'arsehole'.
If 'bollocks' is so bad in England, why is 'bollix' okay in America? Not that I'm objecting, I'm just a bit surprised.
The answer, oddly enough, doesn't feature in this otherwise fascinating article. You could do worse than give it a gander, especially if you're wondering how some people might be offended - or might not! - by religious swearing, where the author observes:
'The defanging of religious taboo words is an obvious consequence of the secularization of Western culture. As G. K. Chesterton remarked, "Blasphemy itself could not survive religion; if anyone doubts that, let him try to blaspheme Odin." '
Worth pondering, that.