Lynne Murphy alerts me to a line in a Facebook post by the American author Catherynne Valente: “y’all can’t stop being hateful and I’m tired of getting notifications that someone else is being [an] absolute bell-end about their fellow man on NextDoor.” (NextDoor is a regional communication platform, and apparently in Valente’s town, people have been making virulent anti-immigrant comments.)

“Bell-end” (it’s variously printed as hyphenated, two words, and one word) is categorized by the OED as “British coarse slang.” Two definitions are offered, the first being “The glans of the penis”; the earliest citation is the 1961 edition of Eric Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, where it’s listed along with the comparable terms “blunt end” and “red end.” The second definition is “A foolish or contemptible man or boy.” It shows up in 1992 and the most recent citation is from 2008 in The Guardian: “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.’”

None of the citations are from the U.S., and indeed, I have not been able to find it used by anyone here other than Valente. And speaking of Valente, her website bio notes: “She graduated from high school at age 15, going on to UC San Diego and Edinburgh University, receiving her B.A. in Classics with an emphasis in Ancient Greek Linguistics.”

I gather that along with the B.A. she picked up some salty language.



14 thoughts on ““Bell-end”

  1. In the 1980s, before the pop-up dome tent became all the rage, I went to buy a tent. A long, low tent might be a standard type or might afford the luxury of a ‘bell end’. This was where the end furthest from the entrance flap was flared out to accommodate the things you might have next to your pillow and not want to knock over in the night such as a cup of water and an alarm clock.
    In UK football grounds a stand of seating will tend to be named after a local dignitary, sponsor; hero from the club’s history or a geographical feature. Such stands, if behind the goal, may be called ‘ends’. Thus Aston Villa FC has the Holte End; Liverpool the Kop End, etc.
    In 2003, according to a Guardian report, Manchester City Football Club sought their fans’ opinion of what a new stand should be called. A large majority wanted it to be called after former star-player Colin Bell but there was talk of the poll having been nobbled by fans of other teams wanting Manchester City to be humiliated by having a stand referred to – at least colloquially – as ‘The Bell End’ (even though it is to the side of the pitch).
    There is now a Colin Bell Stand at the Man City ground.

    1. Tue 28 Oct 2003 23.29 GMT:

      Manchester City have been forced into an embarrassing charm offensive after alienating their greatest ever player Colin Bell by reneging on an agreement to name one of their stands in his honour.

      Bell was so angry when he learned that the West Stand of the new City of Manchester Stadium would be renamed after the former manager Joe Mercer that his family have written to the chairman John Wardle complaining of their “shock and surprise”.

      The reason for Bell being so upset is that his name had polled the most votes when the club’s supporters were asked in March to decide from a six-man short list who most deserved the honour. His family were told he had “convincingly won”, only to learn seven months later that the stand would “definitely not” be named after him.

      City’s explanation is that they suspected rival fans had “hijacked” the Internet vote, and Wardle says he has ordered an investigation. “I am concerned about this whole issue,” he said. They feared the player had been voted for so that fans from other clubs would have the opportunity to refer to the stand as the Bell End.”


  2. All that aside, once we understand the concept of “bell end” as the tip of the penis, it’s very easy to see the American version is equally below standard: “dick head”.

    1. I never would have thought of that! Always pictured dick head as someone who has a dick in place of his head.

    1. Also a retiring Worcestershire village three kilometres south-east of Hagley on the A491, north of Bromsgrove.

      The last time I spelt bellend as an unbroken word was on a 1987-vintage Apple Macintosh SE, whereupon Microsoft Word 3.1 insisted the word ought be hyphenated bel-lend at the line break.

  3. It has also spawned the word “bellendery” for foolish behaviour. Example: “More Class A bellendery from that bellend President”.

    Another, I presume British, equivalent is “helmet”. I know the etymology of this one but I doubt it would pass your comment filtering.

    1. Now I’m intrigued. I would have assumed helmet is used in this context due to the glans being the shape of a helmet, particularly an old-fashioned British fireman’s helmet. (Just as I assume bell-end is a shape reference.) But I can’t see why this would be filtered, so is there a different etymology?

  4. This is certainly one phrase that was never adopted in Australia, although it does pop up occasionally on recent English working class comedy shows, so it’s not that we’re unaware of it. I think that it’s either a recent thing (last decade or so), or perhaps broadcasting regulations have loosened up to enable it to be said on air.

    I don’t think I’ve heard any UK migrants say it, although it’s possible that they wouldn’t say it in the presence of a respectable Aussie woman 😉

  5. Fun fact: play on words from my British office. One of our managers had the surname of Bell. He wasn’t very popular. His private office, at the furthest corner of the building, was routinely referred to as ‘Bell End’ by the older male staff. And yes, that kind of ‘bell-end’. 😀

  6. As it happens, I’ve just recently read Valente’s novel Space Opera, a science fiction novel about a has-been glam rock star who finds himself representing the Earth in a galactic version of the Eurovision Song Contest, heavily influenced by British author Douglas Adams. Many of the characters are British and the early chapters are set in the UK. I usually cringe at American authors’ depictions of British speech, but she actually made quite a good job of it. People were eating sweets not candy and no-one gave distances in blocks. The only thing that pulled me up that I can remember was someone talking about working in a drugstore.

  7. Now this is funny – Cat Valente lives here on Peaks, though I haven’t run into her yet. I do often see her posts on Next Door, but I don’t remember any anti-immigrant screeds on our friendly little island. When I meet her (it’s bound to happen eventually; it’s a tiny island) I can tell her she was the subject of my friend’s blog.

  8. If it is the same organisation, Nextdoor’s an American network for neighbours which took over a UK neighbourhood network called Streetlife that I belonged to. This caused great anger not least because Nextdoor required actual addresses. Here we wanted contact with our neighbours but not too much contact! Streetlife had been started in Battersea by one person following a burglary and retained a local feel. There’s been some talk about racial profiling on Nextdoor in regard to crime.

  9. I just heard ‘bell-end’ used on an episode in the third season of “Mum”.

    (And I have unfortunately encountered racialist rants on my local Nextdoor…)

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