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The word twat is a vulgar synonym for the human vulva, but is more widely used as a derogatory epithet, especially in British English. The word may originate from Old Norse þveit meaning cut, slit, or forest clearing.
- Then owls and bats
- Cowls and twats
- Monks and nuns in a cloister's moods
- Adjourn to the oak-stump pantry
Its meaning was in reality the same then as now, Browning's misconception probably arose from a line in a 1660 satirical poem, Vanity of Vanities:
- They talk't of his having a Cardinalls Hat
- They'd send him as soon an Old Nuns Twat
- Among the pithy sayings which, according to tradition, the philosopher bequeathed to posterity in rhythmical form and sententious brevity, this is notably recorded: "Humble yourselves, my descendants; the father of your race was a 'twat' (tadpole): exalt yourselves, my descendants, for it was the same Divine Thought which created your father that develops itself in exalting you."
Although sometimes used as a reference to the female genitalia, the word twat is more often used in various other ways:
- As a derogatory insult, a pejorative meaning a fool, a stronger alternative to the word twit – 'He can be a complete twat' (often used in the UK)
- To hit something (or someone) hard or violently – 'Let's get out there and twat it!'
In August 2008, the publisher of a children's book, My Sister Jodie by Jacqueline Wilson, decided to reprint the word twat as twit in future editions of the novel so as not to offend readers or their parents.
In a radio interview on 29 July 2009, the leader of the British Conservative Party, David Cameron apologized for any offence caused after he used the word twat on live radio during a breakfast radio show interview on Absolute Radio:
The trouble with Twitter, the instantness of it – too many twits might make a twat.
He attempted to play down the incident, and added: "I was doing a radio interview and I'm sure that people will understand that."
For the purposes of film certification, usage of the word is not considered as serious as many other swear words. For example, the film Kes has been certified PG in the United Kingdom despite more than one instance of the word.
- Dictionary definition and etymology of "twat"
- Mark Liberman (19 January 2005). "Twat v. Browning". Language Log. Retrieved 30 July 2005.
- "Twat". Dictionary.co.uk.
- The Origins and Common Usage of British Swear-words
- Red Dwarf: Polymorph scene 10 (transcription link)
- Floot, Alison (21 August 2008). "'Offensive' word to be removed from Jacqueline Wilson book". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 March 2010.
- "David Cameron apologises for Twitter radio swearing gaffe". Telegraph Media Group. 29 Jul 2009. Retrieved 11 November 2013.
- Siddique, Haroon (29 July 2009). "David Cameron says sorry for 'twat' comment during radio interview". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 March 2010.
- Parents' Guide for Kes (1969)