Sunday, August 31, 2014


A listener named Adele called to say that her son had snickered when she told him that her uncle, a naval engineer, had worked in the bowels of a ship during World War II. I guess her son would have preferred engine room, on the basis that bowels is too graphic an image. I told her to ignore her son, as I often do mine.

Bowel is an interesting word. It came from a Latin word (botellus/botulus) that meant sausage or pudding. Butchers would stuff animal gut or intestine to make sausage. The Latin root also shows up in botulism, a poisoning caused by improperly prepared or preserved food. Botuliform – shaped like a sausage – is also indebted to the same Latin word.

By 1548, bowels had expanded to mean the interior of anything, its center. The bowels of the earth became a cliché. Shakespeare used “the bowels of” many times. Examples include

Hastings: O momentary grace of mortal men,
Which we more hunt for than the grace of God!
Who builds his hopes in air of your good looks
Lives like a drunken sailor on a mast,
Ready with every nod to tumble down
Into the fatal bowels of the deep.     [Richard III]

Thus far into the bowels of the land
Have we marched on without impediment . . .     [Richard III]

Aufidius:  Worthy Marcius,
Had we no quarrel else to Rome, but that
Thou art thence banished, we would muster all
From twelve to seventy, and pouring war
Into the bowels of ungrateful Rome,
Like a blood flood o’er-bear.     [Coriolanus]

It was great pity, so it was,
That villainous saltpeter should be digg’d
Out of the bowels of the harmless earth . . . .    [Henry IV, Part 1]

Exeter: Therefore, in fierce tempest is he coming
In thunder and earthquake, like a Jove,
And bids you in the bowels of the Lord
Deliver up the crown . . . .   [Henry the Fifth]

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.


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