Posted by Smokey Stover on February 12, 2008 at 14:10:
In Reply to: Blue streak posted by ESC on February 12, 2008 at 10:40:
: : I have found several threads in the archives relating to the phrase "blue streak" or "curse a blue streak."
: : I was surprised that nobody seemed to get to the bottom of this expression which actually arose during the days of vaudeville. In vaudeville there were the family or "legit" houses (as opposed to less reputable venues that might have featured strip tease, etc.). Anyway, these major theatres had very strict rules about appropriate language and any performer who cursed on stage would be reprimanded in writing and on a blue piece of paper. Several violations would mean that you basically lost the right to perform at their theatre. Consequently, the phrase 'blue streak' or 'curse a blue streak' grew to be synonymous with being "off-color" or inappropriate.
: : I know I have read this is several sources but am surprised there doesn't seem to be a lot on web about this. Anybody else familiar with this version of the story? I'm 99% certain that it is an accurate account.
: Here are my notes on "blue."
: BLUE - According to "Listening to America" by Stuart Berg Flexner, (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982) "blue movies, 1950s (was derived) from the 1864 use of 'blue' to refer to indecent or obscene talk."
: The "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" states: "blue. According to the 'Dictionary of American Slang, 'blue' in the sense of risqué or bordering on the obscene has been current since about the turn of the century and it suggests that 'blue' got this meaning 'perhaps because the color blue is associated with burning brimstone.' Well, perhaps - but that doesn't square with its use by people in show business, especially the more raffish kinds of show business like nightclubs and burlesque.it was standard practice to change the color filters on spotlights when the star dancer went into the gamier parts of her act. A favorite color used during these portions of her act was blue, so 'dipping into the blue,' as the common expression went, may well have come from this change in color of the spotlight." The Morris Dictionary has a separate entry on the term blue laws. But it doesn't explain how they come to this conclusion: "The New York Times reported that the name derives from Puritan legislation, regulating Sabbath conduct, printed on blue paper in the theocratic New Haven colony in the 17th century.' That's a nice story, but the truth is simpler. The 'blue' in 'blue law' is simply a synonym for 'puritanical' or 'strict.'"
For another view, see our archive, s.v. talk a blue streak. See, specifically,