The bell of the ball

E-mail from a friend I’ll call J, reporting on exchanges on an (unidentified) web site about the photo below, of a carefully printed note on what was said to be a badly parked car (with a Jesus Disciple sticker on it), crucially in the UK (US participants would have been just baffled by the note, in which bellend is used as a crude stinging insult; the rough American affective equivalent would have been asshole — but that’s anus-based rather than penis-based):

(#1) The website exchanges were all about bellend — which first came into widespread use in BrE about 25 years ago in the sense ‘glans penis, dickhead’ and immediately extended to a generic male-insult use (as above) — but which is virtually unknown in AmE; the lexical item has now been scrupulously described in OED3, but the photo above (from a Mirror (UK) story on 11/5/21) is of extremely dubious provenance

The linguistic issue. J wrote to me:

I am often surprised by new things I learn, but I am especially so when I am shown a word like this one that I don’t believe I have encountered in my (now) 73 years of exposure to language. And I have considered myself something of an Anglophile, though perhaps not up-to-date. Anyhow, I would expect this is not news to you, but I don’t find anything when I search your blog site for the word “bellend”. Anyway, I thought this might be of interest.

Very much so, because it was all news to me. But then it’s been several decades since I lived, on and off, in the UK, and I haven’t been in touch with BrE street talk. And, let’s face it, I’m 81 and isolated, pretty much out of the popular sociocultural world. So I was pleased indeed to see that OED3 (Sept. 2009) had an entry on the noun bell end, also spelled bell-end and bellend (referring to various flared or bell-shaped objects, including the glans penis). The relevant subentry, in its entirety:

3.  British coarse slang.

a. The glans of the penis.

1961 E. Partridge Dict. Slang (ed. 5) II. 1079/2 End,..Glans penis; mostly in compounds: bell-end, blunt end, red end.

1995 Independent (Nexis) 5 Feb. 26 He marshals an endless pudendal parade of motts, minges and bell-ends.

1998 Guardian 14 July (Features section) 16/1 The gaffer’s a tolerant man, but if there’s one fing he won’t stand for, it’s having some two bit nonce like you tugging his bell end.

2008 J. Dunthorne Submarine 59 There was a man with thrush; it gave his bell-end a kind of polka dot pattern. 

b. A foolish or contemptible man or boy.

1992 Re: West Bromwich Albion in (Usenet news group) 28 Sept. Perhaps you are referring to that infamous collection of bellends known as w.b.a. (win bugger all).

1998 K. Sampson Awaydays 33 He nods over at Christy, Hardy, Kev The Man and Baby, all bolly-eyed, all savagely drunk. ‘Them bell-ends. Been caning it down The Bwyton all afternoon, calling all sorts.’

2004 D. Black Darkness ‘Talking’ 25 Then it became fashionable and when that dies out we’ll still be here behaving like bell ends.

2008  Guardian 31 Mar. (G2 section) 5/1 Clearly, no one’s ever taken them aside and said, ‘Er, you sound like a bit of a bell-end here. Perhaps you ought to sit down and be quiet.’

The physical basis for the metaphorically phallic sense of bell end:

(#2) At a penis park in South Korea: three bell ends in a row

So much for sense 3a. For sense 3b, compare the development of the nouns in He’s such a prick / dick / dickhead!

The reportorial issue. The source for the photo in #1 as J came across it is a story on the Mirror (UK) site on 11/5/21, “Woman finds brutal note left on parked car – and everyone’s finding it funny: Many people seemed to presume the note was a joke …”. The story, with a series of interpolated comments of mine, for further discussion below:

A woman returned to her car [AZ1: ouch — what kind of reporting is this? WHO?  WHERE? WHEN? IN WHAT WAY was the car badly parked? I mean, did this photo just drop from the sky?] to discover a brutal note [AZ2: mostly not brutal at all, though it somehow sees a conflict between the car-owner’s Christian beliefs and the owner’s thoughtless parking habits] left on the windscreen taking aim at her Christian bumper sticker to the amusement of social media users.

Just above the note is a bumper sticker that reads “Jesus disciple” [AZ3: a bumper sticker combining a Jesus Fish with the word Disciple — the latter marking the car owner as a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) — but the Disciples are entirely American, not British, and anyway they don’t use Disciple on their bumper stickers].

The note, which read “PRETTY SURE JESUS WOULDN’T PARK LIKE A B******” was placed under the windscreen wipers on the rear window of a silver Mitsubishi [AZ4: NO, NO, obviously a Mercedes-Benz].

The image was shared online with the caption: “I shouldn’t laugh, but I’m going to…”

A photo of the note was shared on Reddit and Instagram where many people presumed it to be a joke and found it hilarious [AZ5: given what I’ve already said, the photo can’t possibly be genuine; but there’s a question about who invented it].

Many people seemed to presume the note was a joke, with one person commenting: “There’s a Jesus take the wheel joke in this somewhere”.

Another pointed out: “Jesus has never driven a car before so he might actually park like that”.

AZ1. I realize this is the Mirror, which we expect to be both sensational and unprofessional. But this photo and the accompanying story are a total train wreck.

The Mirror story begins in the dreamy mode of a folk tale, a tall tale, a “funny story”, a joke: one morning a pious housemaid set off to hike to the seaside, where magic blue dolphins were said to frolic on rainy Tuesdays; a German shepherd, a night-blooming cereus, and a Benedictine monk walked into a bar; when I was in college, the guys in my frat house used to get laid at this cathouse where all the hookers had three breasts. That sort of thing.

Actual news stories start out with very specific information — information that can be fact-checked — that sets the scene for a report of some newsworthy event. In the Mirror, we get a nameless woman with a car that is said to be badly parked in some way. (Perhaps parked badly in haste, while she was running an errand; the story says she “returned to her car”.) Somewhere; presumably in the UK, but not otherwise specified. Sometime; presumably recently, if it’s to be newsworthy, but again not specified in the story.

Then the event, the placement of the note on her car while she was away. The photo supplies the note, the story describes the bumper sticker on the car that provides the impetus for the note. And, incidentally, describes the car (incorrectly, despite the fact that the car is immediately identifiable from the photo). All of this is perplexingly balled up.

AZ2. The “brutal” note:

I’m pretty sure Jesus wouldn’t have parked like a bellend.

Except for the truly crude bellend, the note is politely framed — sounds like British understated criticism, in fact — and very carefully printed, not scribbled in haste. So the note looks phony. On the other hand, the assumption that a good Christian would park more thoughtfully is the sort of zany thinking that real people are subject to, and that suggests there might have been an actual note story behind all of this.

Similarly, the owner of the car in the story is a woman (despite the fact that people in general are inclined to assume that car owners are male). The note-writer wouldn’t know that, just from looking at the car, so he’d assume the owner was a man and would therefore use the male-directed bellend. Again, a realistic oddity that suggests there might have been an actual note — but that the one in the photo might have been concocted.

AZ3. The bumper sticker: a Jesus Fish plus Disciple. A Jesus Fish would be no surprise on the car of a British Christian (though I believe the symbol is in wider use in the US than in the UK). On the symbol, from Wikipedia:

The ichthys or ichthus (from the Greek ἰχθύς ‘fish’) is a symbol consisting of two intersecting arcs, the ends of the right side extending beyond the meeting point so as to resemble the profile of a fish. The symbol was adopted by early Christians as a secret symbol. It is now known colloquially as the “sign of the fish” or the “Jesus fish”.

(#3) The ichthys outline by itself

… In the 1970s the “Jesus Fish” started to be used as an icon of modern Christianity. … Today, it can be seen as a decal or emblem on the rear of automobiles or as pendants or necklaces as a sign that the owner is a Christian. Versions of this include an Ichthys with “Jesus” or “ΙΧΘΥΣ” in the centre, or simply the Ichthys outline by itself.

(#4) An ichthys with “ΙΧΘΥΣ” inside it; an ichthys with “Jesus” inside it is in #1

But then there’s the Disciple in #1. From Wikipedia:

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is a mainline Protestant Christian denomination in the United States and Canada. The denomination started with the Restoration Movement during the Second Great Awakening, first existing during the 19th century as a loose association of churches working towards Christian unity, then slowly forming quasi-denominational structures through missionary societies, regional associations, and an international convention.

… It is often referred to as The Christian Church, The Disciples of Christ, The Disciples, or the DOC.

… The logo of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is a red chalice with a white St. Andrew’s Cross. The chalice represents the centrality of Communion to the life of the church. The cross of Saint Andrew is a reminder of the ministry of each person and the importance of evangelism, and recalls the denomination’s Scottish Presbyterian ancestry.

(#5) The DOC logo

… Because most congregations call themselves “Christian Churches,” the chalice has become a simple way to identify Disciples of Christ Churches through signage, letterhead, and other forms of publicity.

Two things here. First, the Disciples are an entirely American denomination, so we wouldn’t expect Disciple on a British sticker. Second, even so, the Disciples don’t use the Jesus Fish in their signage. So the combination of symbols in #1 is not one that I’ve been able to find attested anywhere.

Once again, a piece of #1 appears to have been concocted, perhaps from a genuine story of a car with a sticker that has a Christian symbol — a Jesus Fish — on it.

AZ4. The car in #1. Misidentified in the Mirror story as a Mitsubishi. Who doesn’t recognize the Mercedes-Benz logo, so prominently displayed in the photo in #1? The car there is in fact a specific Sport model, with its model number — GLA 200d — also prominently displayed in #1. Here’s the whole car:


Maybe the genuine story had a Mitsubishi in it, but the photo was concocted using a Mercedes.

AZ5. If you just read the Mirror story, without the photo, you get what might have been an accurate, though distressingly fact-poor, story about an actual event. (As opposed to invented stories of the “Wouldn’t it be a hoot if …?” variety.)There is still the question about how this got paired with the obviously concocted photo. Here I admit to being baffled.

I do note that, thanks to the labors of OED3’s lexicographers, satisfying J’s curiosity about the lexical item bellend was the easy part of this project. Coping with the peculiarities of the Mirror‘s story and photo was an unexpected part, taking up essentially all of my (long) working day today. Ah, the blogging life.

4 Responses to “The bell of the ball”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Another anomalous thing about that photo: Who puts notes to a driver on the rear windshield? Of course whoever’s behind this wants the bumper sticker to appear in the photo, otherwise the point of the note gets lost; but isn’t it pretty much universal that notes left on cars for the driver to see are put on the front windshield?

  2. J B Levin Says:

    There are several symbolic associations between Christianity and fish — I knew that the one related to language is that “ΙΧΘΥΣ” is an acronym. I just thought it was for a different phrase. I have learned that it is supposed to stand for “Ιησούς Χριστός Θεού Υιός Σώτηρ (Iesous Xristos Theou Yios Soter)”, meaning “Jesus Christ, God’s son, savior.”

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      And then there’s the offer from Jesus to Simon Peter and Andrew: follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.

      • J B Levin Says:

        And that brings up another language related conundrum that I never understood when I was young: all the movies (and other descriptions) depicting the life of Jesus say something about Jesus telling Simon that he was now Peter because he would be the rock on which his church would rest or something like that. (I was not brought up in that tradition so I probably missed an explanation.) I could never figure out why Peter was a better name than, say, Jim, William, Rock, or even Simon. (Of course when I learned about the etymology behind “Peter” I understood – much later.)

Leave a Reply