THE revelation that there has been a significant increase in the use of swearing during lockdown – particularly among young people and children – reminded me of my mother, who never used bad language, but, in extremis would sometimes, in exasperation, resort to uttering the phrase “not pygmalion likely”, which always intrigued me.

It wasn’t until I was in my early teens and questioned her on her use of that phrase, that I discovered its origin.

When George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” (on which the musical “My Fair Lady” is based) opened in London in 1914, the producers had to obtain special permission from the Lord Chamberlain who, until 1968 was responsible for censorship in all theatres, for Eliza Dolittle to use the word “bloody”, as swearing on stage was strictly forbidden.

It was this that gave rise to the practice among the more genteel womenfolk to say “not pygmalion likely” rather than the coarser “not bloody likely”.


Norwich Avenue West, Bournemouth