Posted by: Jack Henry | April 5, 2017

Editor’s Corner: Blue Murder

Yesterday, we discussed how Americans say bloody murder to mean in a loud, violent manner. (For example: I took a bite of Dominic’s dessert and he screamed bloody murder because he hates sharing.)

It appears that while we talk about bloody murder, other English speakers refer to blue murder, but it has the same meaning. I have cut this article down for our purposes, but the full article is at World Wide Words (complete with British spelling and punctuation).

Blue murder

This idiom is largely restricted to Commonwealth countries. Americans prefer to cry bloody murder, which is more expressive and easier to understand. Either way, it means to make a noisy and extravagant protest.

As long as the bite does not come in the form of double-digit inflation, it’s all sweetness. Cross that mark, and they’re all screaming blue murder. The middle-class loves a free lunch, subsidised healthcare and education.

The Hindustan Times, 6 Aug. 2011.

Using colours as metaphors for emotion is probably as old as human language, though they’re deeply determined by culture. In English we have phrases such as white with rage, green with jealousy, see red, yellow streak and tickled pink. The emotional associations of blue are more varied than those of most colours. It has among others indicated constancy (true blue), strained with effort or emotion (blue in the face), indecent or obscene (blue movie) and fear or depression (as in blue funk, which in the UK means to be in a state of fear but in the US to be depressed)….

Bloody murder in its semi-literal sense is much older: it goes back at least to the sixteenth century:

There’s not a hollow cave or lurking-place,
No vast obscurity or misty vale,
Where bloody murder or detested rape
Can couch for fear but I will find them out.

Titus Andronicus, by William Shakespeare, c1591.

This sense was still the usual one in Britain in the period in which blue murder appeared and remained so afterwards. The figurative meaning of bloody murder is peculiarly American and began to appear in the 1860s, usually in the form yell bloody murder. There seems to be no direct link between the two phrases. In particular, blue murder doesn’t appear to be a euphemism for bloody murder….

However, most shouts of blue murder have been about more trivial matters and the expression has become a disapproving comment that points up the disparity between the amount of noise and the petty nature of the protest: “anyone would think you were being murdered, the noise you were making”.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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