“Bloody Norah!” – Who was she?

Bloody Nora in Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is totally irrelevant to what follows…

Yesterday, my eternally un-named friend mused on the origin of the phrase “Bloody Norah!” (or “Bloody Nora!”) – a British exclamation used to convey surprise, contempt or frustration.

I had no idea where this came from.

Apparently the phrase is rare or non-existent in the USA and Canada but it is common in British, Australian and New Zealand slang, with “Flaming Nora!” as an alternative.

I think, like many a bizarre saying, no-one really knows the origin.

But the Guardian’s late-lamented Notes & Queries section had a stab at it (with readers’ suggestions).

And here (risking copyright infringement) is what they reckoned…


SEMANTIC ENIGMAS

Who was Bloody Norah and why is she used as an exclamation?

  • Bloody Norah was originally called Norah and the maid for the wealthy Duke Wodingtonshire in the 17th century. She earned the name Bloody Norah after she killed a servant of the duke with a stick of celery. When the Duke caught her repeatedly slapping the bloody corpse with the stick of celery he shouted “Oh dear god, you’re all bloody, Norah….” and, after beating her, he banished her to a basement cell for 3 years.

    When the 3 years was up, the Duke set her free but Norah insisted on working for the Duke. Reluctantly the Duke gave her a job cleaning the stables only to find 4 days later she had killed another servant, this time with a kettle. When the Duke found her once again maiming her victim with the dented kettle, he cried, “Oh, bloody Norah!” and grabbed a horseshoe in an attempt to kill Norah.

    After a long struggle, Norah escapes, leaving the battered Duke cussing to himself: “Bloody Norah!”.

    The expression came from the Duke himself, as he would tell the story of Norah to all he knew and would always refer to her as “Bloody Norah”.

    As the Duke aged he grew senile, he would be heard talking to himself and shouting: “….BLOODY NORAH!!!!……”. And, as people around saw him still as a respected figure in the community, they all started saying “Bloody Norah!” as they all thought the Duke has invented a new cuss word. It has stuck until the present day.
    (Ronnie, Essex, UK)
    I think Norah’s up there with “Gordon Bennett”, “Christchurch Cathedral” and “Blood & Sand” as a way of pretending not to swear once you’ve started. Similarly “God blind me” has become “Cor Blimey” and “By Our Lady” has become “Bloody”
    (Chris Bourne, Brussels, Belgium)
    ‘Nora’ is not a woman’s name but a form of the word ‘horror’. The phrase started off as “flaming horror” (or “flipping/bloody etc horror”) as a cry of dismay/disbelief. In the normal Cockney manner, the final ‘g’ and the opening ‘h’ were dropped to produce something that sounded like “flamin-orror” and that in turn over the years became “Flamin’ Nora!”…or “Bloody Nora” as a stronger alternative. So Nora wasn’t a person at all but the result of an accent.
    (David, Weybridge, England)
    During the 1990s in England a surge of mock-Cockneys arose and with it also surged their use of the irritating rhyming Cockney slang. This was one of the expressions that came about then; you will not find reference to it before then.
    (Laura Evans, Plaistow, London, UK)
    “Bloody Nora!” has been used in the London area for many years, in the same way as “Gawd Blimey!”. In the 1970s I recall an incident in a pub when a female friend arrived inappropriately dressed. When someone remarked “Bloody Nora!”, a Durham associate asked, “Oh, is her name Nora?”. The expression had obviously not travelled that far north.
    (Rob Harrington, Leyton, London, UK)

Basically, no-one really knows…

For example, the first explanation cites ‘Duke Wodingtonshire’ – a title which, as far as I know, has never existed.

The phrase was in common usage well before the 1990s. And “flamin-orror” turning into “Flamin’ Nora!” when said in a Cockney accent sounds more like something Dick Van Dyke might say in Mary Poppins rather than a real Cockney pronunciation.

“Blood and Sand!” – which I have never of heard before – is more cocktail than Cockney.

My eternally un-named friend is also not convinced it is possible to kill anyone with a stick of celery.

If it IS possible, I can only pray she never finds out details of the technique…

…and that talented storyteller ‘Ronnie from Essex’ writes a novel or a screenplay sharpish, incorporating the celery…

2 Comments

Filed under linguistics

2 responses to ““Bloody Norah!” – Who was she?

  1. Peter Stanford

    I can confirm “Blood and Sand” as a tv-friendly expletive. At least one tv character in the 1970s used it repeatedly as a swearword. More middle-class than some, not least because it refers to an old silent film. (In the 1920s, the working classes flocked to see the Rudolph Valentino film, but fifty years later, only those who thought it was an Arthouse Classic (or whatever) did so.)

    I can’t remember which character or which show, but seem to remember that he had a Northern accent (“Blod and sand! Is that th’ time?”)

  2. As an ex teacher, one of my favourite ever comments from a child was an overheard question to another adult in the classroom: ‘Miss, who’s Gordon Bennett??’
    I’ve no idea but use him all the time!

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