4 May 2006


I am being taken to task for being rude. In previous posts I described people with whom I disagree as "tossers" and "cretins". "Tosser", I am warned, is a "playground insult" — and "cretin" is one of "many names ... now seen as insults ... derived from medical terminology" that are barred by Totnes NALGO for encouraging prejudice against disabled people. (I summarise.)

But I rather like insults. Some of my favourite writers and politicians are or were very good at them: Orwell's "once a whore, always a whore", directed at Kingsley Martin of the New Statesman for having endorsed Stalinism; Bevan's "lower than vermin" jibe agianst the Tories.

And playground insults are some of the best that I've known, and they have a remarkable capacity for survival into adult life: "tosser", "wanker", "arsehole", "bastard", "cunt" are all nasty words I learnt at Brittania Road primary school in the 1960s that have subsequently proved very useful in describing people in all walks of life and of every nationality and creed. It's the same for most Brits: they're the words we use to describe people we dislike in everyday impolite conversation. I emphasise impolite: you can't call your boss a bastard to his face unless you're prepared to be sacked, and if you call him a cunt you're asking for the P45. But down the pub...

First rule is: write and speak demotic English. And that means treating "cretin" — in some distant world a description of the unfortunate effects of thyroxin deficiency — as a synonym for "moron" or "idiot" or "shithead" or "bollock-brain". That's what it means to most users of the English language. Plain abuse. Live with it.

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