International Swear Words to Love and Use: Ulysses Style!

Here's a portrait of James Joyce (as a not-so-young man)--all the book covers for Ulysses are boring!
Here’s a portrait of James Joyce (as a not-so-young man)–all the book covers for “Ulysses” are “blue mouldy!”

There comes a time in your reading life when you meet your match, similar to Napoleon’s Waterloo, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, or Nixon’s Watergate.

For some people, the book that causes mental spasms is Tolstoy’s War and Peace–all (approximately) 1,440 pages of it. For others, the thought of reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, complete with its rambling 60-to-70-page radio speech by John Galt (who IS he, anyway?), is enough to make them weep.

Perhaps the book considered untouchable by many of you is James Joyce’s Ulysses. I should know–I have yet to finish it! But buried within this formidable tongue-and-brain twister, which takes place during one day of Leopold Bloom’s Dublin life (June 16, 1904), are nuggets of profane gold. (And of course, there is the annual commemoration on 6/16 known as Bloomsday…)

Once you’ve finished reading this addition to the “International Swear Words…” blog-post collection, you’ll never again feel taunted by Ulysses. As a bonus, you’ll be able to mesmerize friends and family with the naughtiest bits, rather than recounting “Tales of Brave Ulysses”:

“The Devil Break the Hasp of Your Back”: Simon Dedalus (a character based on Joyce’s father) utters this Irish oath after seeing a humpbacked man navigate his way around a street corner.

A hasp is a metal fastener for a door or lid, so you know the phrase is no compliment. Use it when your child has rolled his or her eyes at you one too many times. (If possible, record that juvenile reaction for posterity with video!)

“The Sea. The Snotgreen Sea. The Scrotumtightening Sea.”: You have only to read about five pages into Ulysses to stumble upon this inventive (and repulsive) description of Dublin Bay’s not-so-fair waters. When next you want to grab someone’s attention with your command of Joycean language, work “snot-green” or “scrotum-tightening” into the conversation.

Here, use this as a springboard: “That scrotum-tightening voice of my co-worker’s daughter will lead to no good one day.”

“I Was Blue Mouldy for the Want of That Pint”: If you’ve never cracked open a library copy of Ulysses, be forewarned that all sorts of disgusting food descriptions (see end of post) and bodily functions litter the pages. This particular line (from Episode 12, Cyclops) could imply a variety of peculiarities.

It could reference pungent cheese, or the black malt typically used to brew Guinness, or even a scary-looking skin condition. When you want a drink so badly that you’re willing to compare yourself to fungal growth, let Ulysses be your guide as you enter the bar.

“A Corpse is Meat Gone Bad. Well and What’s Cheese? Corpse of Milk”: The most amazing aspect of the Joycean quips I’ve selected here is that you won’t find one word or phrase traditionally thought of as an expletive. (After all, “scrotum” is merely an anatomically correct word that is indeed part of the male reproductive system. But I digress…)

In this case, several characters in the book see a funeral procession pass by and begin discussing corpses. When referring to a person or thing no longer alive, just pull out the handy phrase “meat gone bad.”

To scare others away from the tempting platter of assorted cheeses piled high at a social gathering, summon your vocal strength and interject: “Look–corpse of milk!” (And you thought a blog post associated with Ulysses was going to be dull…)

“He Kissed the Plump Mellow Yellow Smellow Melons of Her Rump…”: If you suspect James Joyce was ingesting something other than alcohol (scroll down to #2) when he wrote Ulysses, I’m not going to disagree. The book’s sexually deviant protagonist, Leopold Bloom, adores his wife Molly’s derriere, even though she has been cheating on him with a scraggy Irish amour.

In Ulysses, an ass is not just an ass–it’s a rump with plump mellow yellow smellow melons (two of them, to be exact).

“O Lord, That Little Limping Devil.”: This snappy bit of narrative refers to Mr. Bloom’s reproductive organ. In Episode 13 (Nausicaa), Bloom masturbates on a public beach while staring at pretty Gerty MacDowell from behind a large rock! Here is the full quote:

“Mr Bloom with careful hand recomposed his wet shirt. O Lord, that little limping devil. Begins to feel cold and clammy. Aftereffect not pleasant.”

Memories of Marriage Proposals Don’t Get Any More Bawdy Than This: Ulysses ends (in Episode 18, Penelope) with a memorable soliloquy by Leopold Bloom’s duplicitous wife, Molly, as she fondly remembers the day Leopold proposed to her.

This run-on sentence, devoid of any punctuation, was once a record-holder as the longest sentence in literature. Rather than torturing your eyeballs in the worst possible way, I encourage you to read this article regarding Bloomsday 2011 (via

To lure you in, there’s a bit of trivia regarding Marilyn Monroe’s reading list. The article also includes a recording of Irish actress Marcella Riordan reading the infamous sentence. I’ll leave you with this closing thought: “…and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

Random Honorable-Mention Quotes from Ulysses:

“British Beatitudes! … Beer, beef, business, bibles, bulldogs, battleships, buggery and bishops.”

“The Irishman’s house is his coffin.”

“Love loves to love love.”

“History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

“Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod’s roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”


Have you ever attempted to read Ulysses but gave up because you thought James Joyce’s writing style too insurmountable a mountain to scale? Now that you’re aware of just how much wicked humor awaits your brain’s parietal lobe, are you more willing to sample Mr. Joyce’s literary wares?

The wild Joycean ride known as Ulysses is loosely based on the ancient Greek tale of Odysseus–you know, that scrap of epic poetry called “The Odyssey”…

And remember, it could have been worse–I could have blogged about Joyce’s Finnegans Wake! The more you read challenging literature, the better a writer you’ll become–so don’t fear Ulysses (or “The Reaper”).

Lori Shapiro is the owner of By All Writes LLC, a business-to-business (B2B) writing, editing, and research company in Marlton, New Jersey. She revels in shielding her clients from the pain of writing their own print and web marketing or educational copy. Please call Lori Shapiro at 856-810-9764 or email By All Writes LLC at  for a no-obligation project quote today!

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