Fact Check

Keep Off the Grass

Punk rocker's 'Keep off the grass' tattoo is disrespected by a surgeon.

Published Nov 29, 2005

Legend:   Punk rocker's 'Keep off the grass' tattoo is disrespected by a surgeon.



[Collected via e-mail, 2002]

A Nurse was on duty in the Emergency Room, when a young woman with purple hair styled into a punk rocker Mohawk, sporting a variety of tattoos, and wearing strange clothing, entered. It was quickly determined that the patient had acute appendicitis, so she was scheduled for immediate surgery. When she was completely dis-robed on the operating table, the staff noticed that her pubic hair had been dyed green, and above it there was a tattoo that read, "Keep off the grass."

Once the surgery was completed, the surgeon wrote a short note on the patient's dressing, which said, "Sorry, had to mow the lawn."

[Collected via e-mail, 2005]

Many years ago, whilst working at the Leicester General Hospital in the U.K. I heard this story.

A young woman was admitted to the surgical ward with suspected appendicitis. Anyone needing abdominal surgery was routinely shaved in the pubic area. This young lady refused to allow the nurse to give her a pubic shave. As time went on the situation became more urgent and the surgeons knew they had to act quickly before it developed into peritonnitis. The patient was taken down to the operating theatre. After the anaesthetic was administered, they proceeded to shave her pubic hair. Much to their surprise and astonishment, they found that it had been dyed green, and above was a tattoo, with the words, "Keep of the grass, Roger". Whereupon the anaesthetist shaved the pubis and wrote in felt tip pen,
"Sorry, Roger, we had to mow the lawn."


Origins:   Although the heyday of punk rock is long past, one of the stories the punk phenomenon spawned has become part of the canon of contemporary lore.

Those swept up in that genre of music which came to fruition in the 1970s used fashion to express identification with its underlying theme of rejection of mainstream

values. A typical punk dressed in slashed or mutilated clothing, styled his hair into a "Mohawk" that had been dyed a heart-stopping shade of crimson, green, or blue and made to stand upright in spikes, wore razor blades or safety pins as jewelry, and proudly displayed facial piercings. The style was brash, defiant, and angry, as were those who adopted it — young persons who were disgusted by the few crumbs society appeared to have to offer them and so decided to openly reject it all. It is not coincidence that this music style and attendant culture came out of the United Kingdom in the 1970s, a time and place where those just arriving into adulthood were overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness as a result of the dearth of available work and opportunities for

Via the doctor's brazenly scrawled "Sorry, we had to mow the lawn," this legend about a young person sporting bright green hair below as well as above and a saucy message permanently inked on the abdomen communicates society's paternalistic dismissal of the punks' demand to live outside its norms and requirements. (Think about it. The unambiguous "Keep off" message that meant so much to the punk that she had it permanently embedded in her person is not

only disregarded but is answered with offhand humor that serves to discount her and make light of her choices. And all that done in a "But it was for your own good"

Another aspect of the story comes to light when we consider that the shaved patient is always female in the tellings of the legend we've run into. The girl is seen as


treating her womanly parts with irreverence by emblazoning the area with a "Keep off the grass!" admonishment, so she is answered in kind by the surgeon, thereby
showing that what is taken as her lack of respect for herself will be translated to others' according her no respect either, not even the doctor whose care she is under. The unstated undercurrent is that of "Good girls don't."

The earliest print sighting we've located of this legend dates it to 1984, where it was told of a gal who had to undergo an emergency appendectomy at a hospital in the United Kingdom. (Some readers say they've encountered it earlier, placing the tale in the late 1970s, though.) In the 1984 telling, the young lady awakens to find her formerly hirsute green-dyed pubic area shaved clean and the "Sorry, we had to mow the lawn" note from the surgeon written alongside her "Keep off the grass" tattoo on her belly.

But however the story is told, the gal is always dressed as a punk rocker, and always has shockingly dyed hair (usually green but sometimes purple). The malady that brings her to the emergency room is most commonly an attack of appendicitis, although that aspect can be varied, as shown in the 1994 telling:

During the heyday of punk rock in Devon, a friend of a friend was working as a porter in a general hospital. Apart from a litany of unusual foreign bodies found in patients' various orifices, his favourite story concerned a punk rocker admitted one day for treatment for a broken thigh bone.

The snarling waif had safety pins through every protuberance and a startling shock of green hair. When she was put under anaesthetic and disrobed for the bone-pinning and leg-plastering operation, the surgeon was not altogether surprised to see that the punky patient's pubic hair was dyed green too, and above it was tattooed the saucy legend: "Keep off the grass." Naturally, for hygiene reasons, this had to be removed, and was swiftly shaved off.

An hour later, operation completed, the young woman was returned to her ward, where she shortly regained consciousness. Studying the full-leg plaster for the first time, she was embarrassed to read the surgeon's ironic felt-tipped message: "Sorry, I'm afraid we had to mow the lawn."

While this legend is mostly found in the U.K. or is set there, we did hear it from one American, a doctor in Calabasas, California (one of the many communities within the County of Los Angeles), so it finds at least some expression in the new world.

Barbara "ramones to the contrary, punks don't wanna be sedated" Mikkelson

Last updated:   2 January 2010


    Dale, Rodney.   It's True ... It Happened to a Friend.

    London: Gerald Duckworth & Co., 1984.   ISBN 0-7156-1759-1   (p. 66).

    Healey, Phil and Rick Glanvill.   "Urban Myths: Surgical Clipper."

    The Guardian.   15 April 1994   (p. 59).

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