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Blue streak

Posted by Smokey Stover on February 15, 2008 at 01:30:

In Reply to: Blue streak posted by Baceseras on February 13, 2008 at 17:39:

: : : : 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 "

: : : 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 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,

: :

: As has already been pointed out, "talk a blue streak" doesn't mean "talk profanely", it means "talk fast and plenty". So to curse "a blue streak" would mean the profanities come out in a long excited rush --- but the 'blue' in this case remains part of the unitary expression 'blue-streak' (and it may be helpful to think of it as if it were hyphenated).

: It is nothing but coincidence that we also have 'blue' (meaning 'indecent') language. Where and how such language got its name is hard to find out. The tale about blue-paper reprimands from theater management sounds belabored and unlikely. I think the connection is to the blue light used in theatrical effects, not for strippers, but to represent the mephitic glow of hell-fire. Blue phosphors were already in use for this in the seventeenth century (and who knows? maybe earlier); moreover the practice was widely shared among theater professionals, and so would have been readily understood as a reference point, unlike the rerprimand from manager to performer, which would have varied from company to company even if there were any formal systems at all.

The expression "blue murder" used to be common enough for those silly British comics to have put out a film called "Blue Murder at St. Trinians," which in its day was thought rather funny--but, alas, not indecent, although faintly suggestive.