Posted in Monday Morsels

Monday Morsels: History of a Bully

Bully. In today’s terms, the word means “a blustering browbeating person, one habitually cruel to others who are weaker.”  However, did you know that back in the 1500s, bully was actually a term of endearment?  Derived from the Middle Dutch word boele, meaning lover or brother, bully was originally defined as sweetheart, gallant, a fine chap.  The first recorded use of the word bully as a term of flattery dates back to 1538 when John Bale used it in his book A Comedy Concerning Three Laws of Nature, Moses, and Christ:

The woman hath a wit,

And by her gear can sit,

Though she be somewhat old.

It is mine own sweet bully,

My muskin and my mully,

My gel’ver and my cully–

Yea, mine own sweetheart of gold.

From this definition, people commonly used the term bully to express satisfaction, congratulations, or pleasure.  The popular phrase “bully to you!” would translate in today’s terms as “congratulations, well done.”  Throughout the 17th century that phrase slowly deteriorated from a phrase of celebration into one of sarcasm.  Likewise, the word bully descended from describing “a man of outstanding physical power” to “a blustering fellow more insolent than courageous.”

The concept of bullies and their victims have long been a part of popular culture.

  • Think back to November 5, 1955 and Biff Tannen (Back to the Future).
  • How did Ralph gain popularity and power over Piggy (Lord of the Flies)?
  • Do you remember “Scut Farkus staring out at us with his yellow eyes. He had yellow eyes! So, help me God! YELLOW EYES!” (A Christmas Story)?
  • Classic film lovers must remember Stanley Kolwalski and Stelllllaaaaaa!!!! (A Street Car Named Desire).
  • And in the last 20 years, who hasn’t thought of Nelson Muntz when you hear “ha ha!” (The Simpsons)?
More recently, bullying has come center-stage in the worlds of politics, news, social media, and music.  Teachers, parents, and politicians have been working in recent years to fight against bullying in schools.  With added emphasis on cyber-bullying more notable celebrities have taken up the cause.  Stemming from her own experiences of being bullied, pop-sensation Lady Gaga has become a leading advocate in the anti-bullying movement.  Lady Gaga has used her music as a means to promoting individuality and self-worth; her song Born This Way has become an anthem worldwide for equality and respect regardless of race, sexuality, or creed.  Apart from her music, Gaga has been working with the White House to develop and enhance a national anti-bullying campaign.  In the Spring of 2012 she will launch the Born This Way Foundation, partnering with the Harvard Graduate School of Education which seeks to “explore the best ways to reach youth and create a new culture of kindness, bravery, acceptance and empowerment” (“Lady Gaga to launch…”).
To learn more about bullying or for resources to help the fight against bullying, stop by the library to checkout these books:
  • Facing the Schoolyard Bully: How to Raise an Assertive Child in an Aggressive World (Kim Zarzour)
  • Easing the Teasing: Helping Your Child Cope with Name-Calling, Ridicule, and Verbal Bullying (Judy S. Freedman)
  • School Violence, The Media, and Criminal Justice Responses (Kimberly A. McCabe)
  • Teens at Risk (Christine Watkins)
  • Cybercrime (Jeffrey Ian Ross)
  • Bullying and Hazing (Jill Hamilton)
or checkout these online resources available through NCLIVE:


Bale, John. “A Comedy Concerning Three Laws of Nature, Moses, and Christ” in The Dramatic Writings of John Bale: Bishop of Ossory. London: Priv. Print. for subscribers by the Early English Drama Society, 1907.

“Bully.”  Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary. 2012. Merriam-Webster Online. Merriam-Webster. Web 18 Jan. 2012.

Dent, Susie.  What Made the Crocodile Cry? 101 Questions About the English Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

“Lady Gaga to Launch Born This Way Foundation.” Askwith Forums. Harvard Graduate School of Education, 19 Jan. 2012. Web. 20 Jan. 2012.

Peters, Mark. “Bully: a Vicious, Cowardly Word with a Long History.” Good Magazine 29 Oct. 2010. Web 20 Jan. 2012.



We are the librarians at Haywood Community College in Clyde, NC. We offer great books, a variety of research & educational services, and a staff full of general awesomeness to the HCC and Haywood County communities.

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