odsbodikins /odsbodkins / oddsbodikins / od bodkins / . . .

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odsbodikins /odsbodkins / oddsbodikins / od bodkins / . . .

Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Sep 09, 2015 4:56 am

There was a rather lengthy article in the Wall Street Journal titled ‘How Dare You Say That! The Evolution of Profanity.’ I'd provide the URL, but they've got it locked so you can't access it unless you're a WSJ subscriber.

The bolded mild oath below claimed by the author to be common today was listed with some others which we are all familiar with, but I never heard of this one. Am I alone?
In medieval English, at a time when wars were fought in disputes over religious doctrine and authority, the chief category of profanity was, at first, invoking—that is, swearing to—the name of God, Jesus or other religious figures in heated moments, along the lines of “By God!” Even now, we describe profanity as “swearing” or as muttering “oaths.”

It might seem like a kind of obsessive piety to us now, but the culture of that day was largely oral, and swearing—making a sincere oral testament—was a key gesture of commitment. To swear by or to God lightly was considered sinful, which is the origin of the expression to take the Lord’s name in vain (translated from Biblical Hebrew for “emptily”).

The need to avoid such transgressions produced various euphemisms, many of them familiar today, such as “by Jove,” “by George,” “gosh,” “golly” and “Odsbodikins,” which started as “God’s body.” “Zounds!” was a twee shortening of “By his wounds,” as in those of Jesus. A time traveler to the 17th century would encounter variations on that theme such as “Zlids!” and “Znails!”, referring to “his” eyelids and nails.—Wall Street Journal
When I ran a search for odsbodikins it produced about 6000 hits at my space-time-coordinates, and Google asked the question, “Did you mean: Odsbodkins (22,000)”—both paltry numbers compared to 60 million for ‘gosh’ and even 545,000 for the antiquated (but still used) ‘by Jove.’ From these numbers I conclude that this is an extremely obscure word (‘odsbodikins’/’odsbodkins’/. . .) and that it’s either a booboo that he included it with the others, or the author circulates in a very weird crowd. By the way, my son took a linguistics course from the author, Dr. John McWhorter, when he was at Berkelely back in 2001, and he said both the course and McWhorter were excellent.


ODSBODIKINS [[Note that M-W favors the author’s spelling.]]

archaic—a mild oath

Variants: odsbodikins also ods bodkins (Note the M-W typo – the first variant given is the word itself.)



Word Origin (1700-1710): interjection, Archaic 1. Gadsbodikins

[[In deference to God some capitalize but others don't.]]


1) ODS BODIKINS! . . . (GOD’S, ODS) BODIKINS! BODKINS! (BODLIKINS!) Gods’s dear body!: an oath.

2) OD’S BODIKINS in OD noun and interjection.

I can’t help but think of Hamlet’s ‘bare bodkin’ where their bodkin is a sharp instrument (originally for making holes in leather), but there probably taken to be a slender dagger. This would give us “God’s daggers!, which sounds good, but since it is not mentioned in the above sources, it just makes for a nice folk etymology.

The following quotes are from the Oxford English Dictionary and archived sources:
<1604 “Gods bodkin [1623 bodykins] man, much better.”—Hamlet by Shakespeare, II. ii. 532>

<1692 “God's Bodykins! Has she got the trick on't?”—Wives Excuse by T. Southerne, II. I. page 16>

<1734 “Odsbodlikins . . . you have a . . . strange sort of a Taste.”—Don Quixote in England by H. Fielding, II. viii. page 32>

<1889 “Odsbodkins it was but a dull lie, a most indifferent invention, but you should have seen them seize it and swallow it, . . .”—A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain, edited by ‎Bernard L. Stein – 1983, page 46>

<1903 “The Prince, riding to and fro on his brave black charger, was so intent upon the work he had in hand, that he never noted my approach until I caught his stirrup leather and saluted him. " Ods bodkins! Why 'tis Arthur Aston ! " By ROGER . . .”—The London Magazine, Vol. 10, page323>

<1949 “ODS BODKINS! The morning paper headlines a man-bites-dog story of a school superintendent arrested for profanity.”— The Nation’s Schools, Vol. 43, page 55>

<1989 “‘After it was entangled in the net . . . it was dragged to the shore by seven horses . . . and three hundred men . . .’ (Gadzooks! Odsbodykins! Zounds!)”—The Titford Family (BNC) by J. Titford>

<2008 “‘How about insane? Mental. Wacko. Oh, here's one you'll appreciate: nut-job.’ ‘Come on, Horatio. This is my girlfriend you're talking about here.’ ‘Ods bodkins, Mac! . . .’”—Something Wicked by Alan Gratz, page 48>

<2014 “Ods bodkins, Sam, your lips are blue!” James wrapped my suit jacket back around me, and I pulled it close. He finally pushed the hovering crowd out of the way and scooped me up.”—The Necromancer Series by Lish McBride>
Well, that sure was an obscure one, by McWhorter! (<:)

Ken – September 8, 2015
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Re: odsbodikins /odsbodkins / oddsbodikins / od bodkins / . . .

Post by Phil White » Wed Sep 09, 2015 9:32 am

Thanks for that, Ken. I must move in the same circles as McWhorter. It is very familiar to me, not as anything I would use, but as one of a bunch of words people would use to write mock-Elizabethan dialogue.

Personally, I would have put money on it occurring somewhere in Shakespeare or Ben Jonson, but it seems that it doesn't. And so I wonder exactly where I do know it from.

If I had been asked to write a page of Elizabethan dialogue, it would have been way up there among the "must use" words, along with "zounds" and "gadzooks", of course. But the only spelling I can find on Google Ngrams is "odds bodkins", and this is not exactly a rich vein. There is nothing there that I have ever read, at least among the early hits.

I suppose that it could possibly have come from the comics of my childhood, the Beano, the Victor, the Dandy or whatever, but it is certainly well bedded in and mulched down in my consciousness.
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Re: odsbodikins /odsbodkins / oddsbodikins / od bodkins / . . .

Post by Bobinwales » Wed Sep 09, 2015 7:49 pm

I found THIS. I too am astonished that I didn't get it from Shakespeare it is so familiar.
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Re: odsbodikins /odsbodkins / oddsbodikins / od bodkins / . . .

Post by Phil White » Wed Sep 09, 2015 8:53 pm

Nice spot, Bob. The Hamlet citation may well be the source of my conviction that it came from Shakespeare. I know (knew???) Hamlet far better than any other work.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that our generation at least got it from the Beano or wherever. In retrospect, they seem to abound with "gadzooks", "zounds" and "odds bodkins".
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