Brewer's Droop #214

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I’m getting rather concerned about what’s happening to my two favourite subjects, reeding and righting.

I was reading the notes of a Victorian Army Officer recently and in every place where he’d written the word “damn” or “damned” someone (I think his Auntie) had crossed the word out and put d*** instead. And I thought to myself, what a boringly pious group the Victorians were.

Then the other evening I watched a Jewish man in London protesting about the use of the “Y” word when Spurs’ supporters chanted it at football matches. One of the panel members said that it was an affectionate abbreviation of “Yiddish” but he was having none of it. “It’s okay for me to use the ‘Y’ word” he said “but I’m offended if YOU use it!”

Well, there goes the neighbourhood I thought.

The next thing is an Italian is going to sue someone because they called him an “eye-tie” and that he was offended by it. It will then become illegal to use the ‘E’ word.

Then I got to thinking…when did the words F*** and C*** and B***** become offensive?

I mean, language is a beautiful thing, and English (the only one I know) constantly has new words added to it. That’s what makes it such a graphic language.

Swear words, however, seem to become less vulgar with the passage of time. For example, “bastard” was so incredibly rude in Tudor times that Shakespeare wrote it as “b-d”.

“Shit” seems to have become less naughty over the past few decades. It’s always meant faeces but these days we use the word liberally in just about any situation.

So who actually was the person that decided “bugger” is a very bad word and mustn’t be used in polite society? (Your email filter has now “bounced” me for being obscene by the way). It was probably a descendant of the Auntie who crossed out the word “damn”, although the Australians don’t seem to have a problem with it – in fact one of my favourite TV commercials of all time uses the word rather a lot actually – you can see it here:
>Toyota Ad

And let’s not stop there. Why is the ‘K’ word or the ‘N’ word so cruel and obscene? Why do I find myself getting angry when I hear those words used? Because that’s what they are – just words. And how many more words will be declared disgusting?

If I apply my intelligence to the matter I can understand how an American might one day decide that being called a ‘Yank” is extremely disturbing. Then he may very well take that to the Human Rights Commission and ‘Yank’ will join ‘Eye-Tie’ and their use forbidden thereafter.

But at what stage will they become as offensive as the ‘K’ and ‘N’ words? Can they ever be so? I, for one, can never imagine myself ever using them in conversation during the remainder of my lifetime because they’re just too ugly and repulsive – and will remain so in my mind forever.

But who made the declaration that they are such bad words? That’s what bothers me.

I did some research and found that the ‘N’ word was widely used around the world and apparently caused no offence. However, by the 1900s it had become a pejorative word, especially in the USA, and it seems that a journalist was responsible for it becoming the ugly word it is today when, in 1904, Clifford Johnson documented the “opprobrious” character of the word – blaming the Southern States who wanted to be as insulting as possible.

The ‘K’ word was used to describe all black people in the southern region of Africa, having been used extensively in the Arabic world. It was used by Boer trek farmers to describe a person not yet converted to Christianity. It was such an innocuous word that many books used it in their titles. Great reference books like Encyclopaedia Britannica used it extensively. In fact it only became a “bad” word during the 20th century and, according to Wikipedia, use of the word became actionable in court by 1976 in South Africa. That’s rather a quick turn around from good to evil – and who was the man who declared it should be illegal?

Will an Irishman, following the lead of the Yanks and the Eye-Ties, take someone to court for calling him a ‘Paddy’ or a Welshman a ‘Taffy’ or someone from Liverpool a ‘Scouse’? Will they all eventually become banned words?

Well I’m fucked if I know – but I think we’re all just a little too precious sometimes.

And here’s the big one: why isn’t there an offensive word for a White, Anglo Saxon Englishman? I really cannot think of one – how can that possibly be?

If you happen know one then please let me know – but remember that the F, C and B words have already been taken.


Apart from the deterioration of the English language that seems to have occurred parallel with the popularity of social media, I’m starting to get really offended by the fact that there are many people who apparently have never been taught how to write a polite letter (or email).

I mean, it’s not difficult to grasp. All you have to do is to imagine you’re actually talking to someone face-to-face. You say “please” and “thank you” and that sort of thing.

So why do so many people write terse messages?

They issue demands, they don’t politely ask. They don’t thank others. In fact you can almost see them not smiling when they’re writing. Then they get their spacing all wrong and the entire thing looks as if it’s been thrown together without much thought – many don’t even bother to use spell-check.

Weren’t they taught the very basics of message composition at school?

And why, oh why, are many of them so “stiff”?

You don’t say “further to our telephonic conversation” in a letter or email – just as you wouldn’t in a face-to-face conversation). You say something like “ it was very productive chatting to you on the ‘phone this morning”.

And be VERY careful about using too many caps. In a written message it looks just like shouting. I once nearly lost a good friend because of this so I use it parsimoniously these days.

Very nice people are often considered to be rude and/or aggressive simply because of their use of the written word. It’s a great shame really.

Please don’t be one of them – thanks. (See? It’s easy to be polite.)

Based on whatever feedback I get from you b-d’s I’ll be writing more on this later. And I haven’t even touched on grammar and spelling yet!

Am going to enjoy the sunshine now.


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  1. I’ve always thought of myself, pejoratively, as a “soutie” or a “rooinek” — at least growing un in Bloemfontein in the 50s, thats what we were called.
    Of course it doesn’t fit someone who is a born-and-bred South African. My neck may get sunburned, but I don’t have a foot in the UK; so I do agree we could compete for a new name…

  2. A word cannot insult you if you do not allow it to do so.

    • Absolutely right.

  3. Words change, and I agree that I won’t be using the K word anytime soon. The N word doesn’t appear to be quite as hate-filled in this country as it is in the U.S. of A though.
    Sometimes though, people try to make words an insult; there seems to be a crowd trying to make the word “Boer” an insult. It doesn’t seem to be working; “What, me, a farmer? No, I’m not.”
    Also, I got nuthin’ for the WASPs. Clearly we don’t insult easily.

  4. Gotta love that Toyota advert!

  5. I’m officially a “Pommey” if that’s the correct spelling. I don’t think it meant to be very flattering somehow……

    • Angie, if it’s meant to be an insult but you don’t regard it as derogatory then it fails:-)

    • I could be wrong, but I’ve heard (what is probably) an urban legend that the word “Pommie” comes from the abbreviation “POME”, used to describe the “Prisoners of Mother England” shipped off to Van Diemen’s land by the few people who were natural born Australians. So it was a derogatory term used by the Aussies to describe the English prisoners. Allegedly. Could never quite confirm this.

  6. They refer to us as “Boesmans” in SA when you are a person of colour. In the meantime, the “Koisan” woman was in the path of Van Riebeeck when he discovered my land, and here am i, innocent.

    To make it worse, all of Europe wanted a taste, so my great grand father, the German joined the party and mix me for a six! I am not only innocent, but a little confused……

    Who am I? I say a child of God, under one race……:)

  7. In the late 1940’s my Welsh grannie used to receive the “Daily Mirror” in the post all the way from pommy land.Grannie would not allow my elder brother and I to look at the massive publication until she had censored it.
    She detested the JANE comic strip ‘cos Jane always revealed her lace panties. My brother and I used to go down to the local library and laugh our heads off, especially at grannies small mindedness.

    • Looking at lace panties in a comic strip? You should be ashamed of yourself Wally!

  8. Hi Chris
    Thanks for always providing a humorous and thought provoking blog.

    I seem to recall the word “limey” being used when I was at school some 40 years ago.

  9. Rock-Spider: a term given to the white Afrikaner by the English. If this was meant to be offensive it missed the mark, however I believe it originated in much the same way as the other descriptive words – through observations.

    Rock-Spiders – originated from when the Anglo Boer War – as we didn’t fight according to “war etiquette”, we hid behind rocks and ambushed the English.

    • I love the term rock-spider. My girlfriend has now decided to call me a “house-plank” though because I seemed to like being a rock too much. Bloody kraut.

  10. Once again a great column. Words are both harmless and evil tools, depending on how they’re used, by whom – and how they are taken. Being labelled ‘Juden’ in Nazi Germany didn’t protect one from the concentration camps. But you are right, we are way too precious. And on the topic of poor comms skills, the worst I’ve experienced was from a very well known person in the advertising world (shouty capitals throughout) and a jumped-up little man with a small amount of power (isn’t always the same) in one of SA’s leading retail companies who didn’t have the decency to even bother to pretend to be polite – because he thought he had the upper hand. Sad really. Sometimes I worry for my fellow man/woman and whether we have what it takes to get over ourselves and not, eventually, resort to nuking one another.

  11. Dear Mr Brewer
    Please be assured that your message regarding these terribly offensive words is noted.
    Surely ‘poop’, ‘bum’ and ‘wee-wee’ are quite sufficient for the average human? (This of course does not include the Australian tribe who as all good S’Africans know are somewhat detached from the race in general.)
    I am, your sincerely, humble servant, who wishes to thank you kindly for spending these few moments reading these thoughts.
    PS Re the White, Anglo-Saxon, Englishmen terminology, I believe that the phrase you are looking for is mainly directed at those members of the English Football team who are melanin starved. The term is “Arseholes”

    • Dear Mr. Snelling,

      Your comments, as always, are refreshingly different although I do think you’re being rather unkind to Arsenal – they’re not that bad.

      However, I must ask you not to use the word “wee wee” on this site again. The word(s) cause serious offence to some.

      • Your note on etiquette suggests that you should finish your reply with at least a “Ta everso” or “Fanks Gov”. Bloody uncivilised, some people.

        Incidentally I was referring to the English football team that represents the country. Any negative thoughts I’ve ever made about the greatest club in the world have invariably been when, desperately hanging on to a one goal lead, my buttocks have clenched so tightly that I have to pat the hole of my body down from my head. And that’s painful.

  12. This I think was once described by some linguist as “the euphemism treadmill”. Its when a word that is used to innocently – sometimes scientifically – describe someone/a demographic, becomes seen as derogatory by those being described.
    Take people of a darker hue in the USA. They detested being called “black”. The “black” Americans themselves chose the word “negro” to describe themselves . Come the 1960’s, and the treadmill caused “Negro” became offensive as well, and now, as we know, they are referred to as “African American”.
    Another famous example is that of people who do not have what we would consider a statistically normal body. There are no more blind people, because “blind” is allegedly offensive in some places, they are visually impaired. but the treadmill really got going on people who were once “disabled” who became “handicapped” who then became “physically challenged” and who are now “differently abled”. Not a full box of chocolates upstairs? You used to be “retarded”, but then you became “mentally handicapped” and now I’ve heard a myriad of non-offensive words.
    And this is where I want to give kudos to two people: firstly, my cousin. She has a severely “mentally handicapped” kid. No. She insists that we not insult her daughter with Pollyanna-ish lables. She is not mentally handicapped, she is retarded – call a spade a fucking shovel. Ironically, the term “retarded” was once the PC-term for “idiot” – the psychological term for people with a certain grade of retardation. You got idiots – IQ of 25 or less, then imbeciles – IQ of 26 – 50, then morons, IQ of 51-70.
    And secondly, more broadly, kudos to the hearing impaired community of SA, who has proudly reclaimed the word “deaf”.
    Bog-house became privy-house became house-of-office-became toilet became Water Closet became restroom became washroom. At the end of the day, doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s the same bloody thing. the treadmill works because people take offense to things too easily, and they think that changing the term will change the reality – it obviously doesn’t

  13. At last I have found the benefit to being a mixture of Dutch, Scots and Irish – nobody can insult me because its just too much of a pain in the arse to try and find a word that works. And even if someone did, my Irish blood would come to the fore and I’d just fekken punch his loits out…

    • You should get together with Rosemarie!

  14. Chris, you kill me! What a great blog. Have you heard of a ‘soutpiel’? Let me know if you need an explanation – however I would rather not have to give it to you!

    • I think you should definitely explain it very carefully!

  15. Please bring on the grammar, spelling and punctuation. I am a GRAMMAR NAZI!

  16. Enjoyed the article!


    Simply because, from a reading perspective, we use about 40% more processing time understanding capitals … got to do with lack of serif and so on … you are far more likely to miss a spelling error if the word is in Caps, and so on and so forth.

    But 40% in the world of reading is massive.

    We process words at an incredibly fast rate, but essentially deal with a ‘degraded’ stimulus in that our eyes take in the meaning of words in ‘gulps’. Hence, why it is easier (and faster) to decode serif as opposed to san serif (you get far more ‘clues’ as to what the letter is in serif fonts, e.g., Times New Roman as opposed to the dreadful Arial, which I loathe. I read very fast indeed, and find that my reading speed slows right down with san serif, since you can’t speed up at the same rate.

    But anyhow, there is a neurophysiological reason as to why your brain screams shut at TOO MANY CAPS!!!!

    Cheers –

    Oh, and yes, it is very interesting why white males as a group don’t have derogatory word attached to them. I always wondered about that. Also, why is it that the most shocking swear word in English refers to a jolly nice part of a woman’s anatomy?

    And, whilst we are about it, what’s so wrong with that anyway – what does it imply about women and their sexuality? For a seminal (hmmm … strange word choice) article do go and read Germaine Greer’s superb essay in The Madwoman’s Underclothes, “Lady, love your cunt”. It’s brilliant – and certainly made me think differently about all the points she raised.

    • Fascinating stuff. Shame you had to bring that crazy woman into it though.

  17. What sunshine are going to enjoy? I thought you were in Cape Town??? :)

    • 25 deg here today Barbara. Maybe I’ll light a fire. Maybe I won’t. I think this has to be thunk over a glass of fine Merlot.

  18. I love this article and think that we have a lot more to worry about in this world than what football supporters like to call themselves, or if people find words offensive, often when none was intended. I do think the english (and english speaking nations in general) love to give names to groups of people. I don’t like the K word personally but growing up the N word I heard to describe people of colour was Native. I still don’t understand why it is no longer PC as it refers to the original inhabitants of the land? Maybe now that we have native apps for our phones/tablets it will once again gain its cool status, although I actually blush and feel uncomfortable using the word in business meetings, or lower my voice when saying it (just like my nan used to do if she said shit or damn back in the day)
    I am a proud Y worder when I am watching football and use the word with pride to speak about a team with a rich history and awesome fans, and an empty trophy room

  19. You could actually combine your swear words and grammar lessons.As in, when you use the word FUCK, opposites do not apply.
    You can say:
    fuck off but not fuck on
    fuck up but not fuck down
    Fuck with but not fuck without
    don’t give a fuck but not don’t take a fuck

    • nice one Helene!

    • obviously you haven’t been to Ireland.

  20. I’ve heard the African word Malunghu or Malung means ‘scum of the sea’ since the european ships arrived out of the ocean and this description is still used to this day.

    Personally I have heard it three or four times behind my back in my experience in various fields of works and leisure.

    Take my comment with a bucket of sea salt

    I am now going to braai a snoek with sweet potatoes

  21. Bugger is my favourite expletive because it sounds so tame (nowadays) yet expresses so much. As in ‘Bugger all those stupid buggers who know bugger-all about e-mail etiquette, or care bugger-all about spelling, grammar, spacing or courtesy. It’s such a bugger to be so irritated by that, but bugger it, I am.’ Thanks for the ad Chris!

  22. Such gentle, pedestrian, middle-class readership, you have.
    During the 80s, I was reliably informed by colleagues of a darker caste, while we exchanged quips in an ad agency studio, (and yes, contrary to popular belief, we had peers of that darker caste in the advertising business back then), that the word ‘honkeys’ was generally used to describe white South Africans. Apparently, the smell of soap, anti-perspirant and scent assaulted their noses and caused much hilarity.
    Rudeness definitely depends on the perception of those described; would more people used dictionaries. ‘Honkey’ makes me feel quite superior. At least someone noticed that I tried to smell good!
    About the most damning insults I use, apart from all the usual four-letter words spoken in their usual capacity, are ‘doos’ (or its English equivalent) to describe certain men and ‘middle class’, meaning: well you know.

  23. White, Anglo-Saxon Ingrish person: “Pom” or “Pommie” or alternately “Soutie” (you must know the story behind THAT one, don’t you) ?

    • No, please explain it to me (in graphic detail) please.

  24. After REEDING all this it’s time for a Beer !

  25. I’m known (unashamedly) to have a mouth like a navvy. And I don’t give a fuck. It’s only a word. For me it is how the word is said rather than the word itself. I can make any word sound insulting depending on the delivery. I once wrote to a client and asked them to ‘sort these fuckers out’. Never mind who or why. But she forwarded my mail with this comment and the shit hit the fan. It didn’t help that the ‘fuckers’ I was refering to were ‘of colour’. I told my client to tell them that I call everybody fuckers (I do) and not to take offense. However, if I had said ‘stupid fuckers’ – then take offense to the word stupid. Get my drift. Thank you Chris for being you – you daft and funny fucker.

    • Using the word “navvy” is a but rude isn’t it?

  26. Hey Chris, the word you are looking for to offensively describe a white Anglo-Saxon Englishman is TWAT!

    • Don’t be silly. That’s just an acronym used at country fayres to describe The Winner At Tombola.

  27. I think that most of the universal colorful descriptions of non-wasps were created by wasps.

    What is interesting is that despite many attempts at retribution, none of them have ever had the same global impact.

    Is it a result of empire or are the other morons just too fucking retarded?

    • I really think that those people who are offended by a single word/descriptor are, in fact, being too precious and should ignore them.

      If, on the other hand, someone calls you, say, an “ugly bastard” then I think you have a right to be offended.

  28. In case you follow Rugby, please look out for my forthcoming book: The Rugby Fan, visit on 1 November and have a laugh, shed a tear and learn how to break the power of the natural law in Chapter 10! :0


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