Is insulting strangers something you like to do in your spare time? Don’t worry about a thing: insult away, you can do so with impunity.
You can metaphorically describe as female genitalia a man who accidentally bumped into you in the street. You can use the same word to describe a woman metonymically.
You can opine that a man’s head has been replaced with his reproductive organ, or, to add a slight transatlantic flavour, that he has an Oedipal relationship with his mother or else practises oral sexual contact with other men.
You can describe a strange woman as a female canine or a strange man as a son thereof.
Whichever epithet you use, you may intensify it with a modifying participle based on fornication.
The possibilities are vast, though not quite so endless as in Spanish or especially the language I grew up with. Still, if you’re good at combining elements in an inventive way, English offers enough to insult a person grievously and memorably.
The best part of it is that the person on the receiving end of your opprobrium would be able to do absolutely nothing about it, other than coming back with “and same to you, squire”.
But hey, sticks and stones and all that. The important thing is that you’ve had your jollies, you got yours in first, making your victim’s retort sound downright churlish and childish.
Better still, if you accompany your insults with the kind of facial expression Julius Caesar ascribed to Germanic vandals going into battle, the likelihood is that there won’t be any retort.
‘On the balance of probabilities’, to use my favourite legal term, the victim may decide that being called a bad name isn’t something worth being nutted, bottled or knifed over.
But God forbid you insult not just a person but our modern ethos. Woe betide anyone daring to make a pejorative remark based on a person’s race, religion, class or sexual orientation.
Even if you refrain from obscenities, you can still get into a lot of trouble by merely alluding to some unfashionable resentments by, for example, referring to a person as ‘your kind’.
By doing so you’d be offending not just an insignificant little individual but the whole society, emphatically including its ‘liberal’ trendsetters (and more or less excluding everyone else, but then in our egalitarian, democratic age no one else really matters).
The other day Mr Justice Mitting communicated this point to Tory MP Andrew Mitchell, former Chief Whip, by ruling against him in a libel trial.
As far as I’m concerned, Mr Mitchell deserves all he got simply for insisting on using a bicycle as a means of transportation. It’s my considered opinion that all London cyclists should be rounded up and deported to Holland, where their kind would fit right in.
This suggestion may strike you as a bit radical, and I understand how you feel. But Mr Mitchell got his comeuppance anyway, even though his bicycle was involved only tangentially.
The Chief Whip felt, probably justifiably, that he was entitled to ride his bike out of Downing Street through the main gate, rather than the pedestrian exit.
However, the police detail refused to open the gate for him, which made Mr Mitchell fly into a rage. Clearly he’s a man prepared to stand on principle even at a detriment to himself.
The parliamentarian unleashed an obscene tirade, packed with the kind of expletives to which I obliquely referred above. That, however, wouldn’t have got him in trouble by itself, even though apparently Mr Mitchell had a fair amount of previous along similar lines.
However, somewhere in between all those Anglo-Saxon epithets based on various amorous practices, he described the officers as ‘plebs’, a word based on the Greek for ‘crowd’. Alas, the way the word ‘plebeian’ was later used in Rome had clear class implications, and not nice ones at that.
The policemen knew a good opportunity for revenge when they saw one. They immediately reported Mr Mitchell to his superiors, and all hell broke loose.
The culprit honestly admitted swearing at the policemen, but he vehemently denied using the offensive word. In spite of that, Dave Cameron sacked him, just to be on the safe side. Yet if he hoped that would be the end of it, he was grossly mistaken.
A string of suits, counter suits and counter-countersuits followed and dragged on for the next two years. Finally justice spoke, using Mr Justice Mitting as its mouthpiece.
This being a civil rather than criminal case, Mr Mitchell’s guilt didn’t have to be proved beyond reasonable doubt. ‘On the balance of probabilities’ sufficed and, according to the judge’s judgement, the balance swung in favour of PC Rowland and against Mr Mitchell.
The disgraced cyclist is now going to become about £2 million poorer, while his political career has suffered a blow from which it’s unlikely ever to recover.
All this is par for the course, and I for one think Mr Mitchell got off easy. A few years from now expressing class prejudice will become an imprisonable offence, and possibly a capital one.
What I do find fascinating is the words Mr Justice Mitting used to communicate society’s outrage.
“I am satisfied at least on the balance of probabilities,” he pronounced, “that Mr Mitchell did speak the words alleged or something so close to them as to amount to the same, including the politically toxic word pleb.”
In other words, even the probability that someone allegedly used a word close in meaning to the word ‘pleb’ constitutes sufficient grounds for ruining the offender’s life.
But PC Rowland didn’t accuse Mr Mitchell of vaguely alluding to the class gap between them. He specifically insisted that the word ‘pleb’ had been spoken and, by the sound of it, Mr Mitting wasn’t convinced it actually had been spoken.
His balance of probabilities seems to have rested on a rather shaky fulcrum, badly in need of firming up. This the judge proceeded to do, but instead, in my view, knocking the fulcrum out completely.
PC Rowland, he said, was “not the sort of man who would have had the wit, imagination or inclination to invent on the spur of the moment an account of what a senior politician had said to him in temper.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but what Mr Justice Mitting said sounds like “Because PC Rowland is exactly what Mr Mitchell called him, a pleb, he wouldn’t have known the word ‘pleb’ and, even if he had, he’s so stupid it wouldn’t have occurred to him at the time. You know what plebs are like.”
Since in Mr Justice Mitting’s considered judgement PC Rowland is intellectually close to a courgette, he probably didn’t realise that the judge’s conclusive remarks were more offensive than the original affront.
So perhaps we should all sign a petition to bring Mr Justice Mitting to justice on the PC’s behalf. See you in the dock, Your Honour.
My new book, Democracy as a Neocon Trick, is available from Amazon and the more discerning bookshops. However, my publisher would rather you ordered it from http://www.roperpenberthy.co.uk/index.php/browse-books/political/democracy-as-a-neocon-trick.htmlor, in the USA, http://www.newwinebookshop.com/Books/0002752