.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Unparliamentary language

My thanks to Kerron Cross for drawing attention to this piece on the BBC website discussing the history of unparliamentary language. Some of the insults are actually rather clever and it is almost a shame that the Speaker acted to censor them:

'Former Labour MP Martin O'Neill had to take back "without reservation" his description of Tory front-bencher Angela Browning as "a second-rate Miss Marple".

She remained remarkably unbothered by the epithet.

Equally, John Major, when Prime Minister, was ordered to withdraw his summing up of Tony Blair, then Opposition leader, as "a dimwit". Tony Banks escaped reprimand for his jibes, earning a peerage instead.

Yet the former Labour MP Tony Banks escaped rebuke for accusing Margaret Thatcher of acting "with the sensitivity of a sex-starved boa-constrictor".

He also once described - with impunity - the former Tory MP Terry Dicks as "living proof that a pig's bladder on the end of a stick can be elected to Parliament".'

I do have a Dictionary of Slang at home from my time doing a linguistics course at University so the historical perspective of some of the terms is fascinating:

'The word "twerp" has had a chequered history. When used in 1956, the Speaker ruled it in order because, inexplicably, he assumed "it was a sort of technical term of the aviation industry".

But when, years later, the late anti-monarchist Labour MP Willie Hamilton described Prince Charles as "that young twerp" he was instantly ordered to withdraw the epithet.

In 1896, the term "Tory skunk" was ruled admissible - "but only just". Yet the term "political skunk" was ruled out of order a century later.

Oddly, "political weasel and guttersnipe" passed muster, but the term "rat" has sometimes been in order and sometimes not.

One Labour MP was called to order for saying that a Tory was a member of the SS. As he withdrew the term, he pretended he thought the letters stood for "silly sod".

Ex-Labour MP Paul Boateng was once hauled over the coals for using the term "Sweet FA" because the authorities wrongly thought it was a way of using the "F-word".

In fact it is a 19th century naval slang for packed mutton. It refers to Fanny Adams, who was murdered in 1867, cut into pieces and thrown into the river at Alton, Hampshire.'

The key to all these insults is whether one can take it as well as dishing it out. Norman Tebbit was a famed bruiser in these sorts of situations but when Michael Foot got one over him by describing him as a "semi-house-trained polecat", Tebbit responded by using a polecat in his coat-of-arms when he entered the House of Lords. Class!
Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?