Twat

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For other meanings of "Twat" and similar, see Twat (disambiguation).

The word twat is vulgar slang for the human vulva,[1] but is more widely used as a derogatory epithet, especially in British English, referring to a person considered obnoxious or stupid.[1][2] It is also used informally as a verb in British English to mean to hit or punch a person.[2] The word may originate from Old Norse þveit meaning cut, slit, or forest clearing.[1]

Historical usage

Robert Browning famously misused the term in his 1841 poem "Pippa Passes", believing it was an item of nun's clothing:[3]

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

Another mistaken (or perhaps dialectal) use was in Edward Bulwer-Lytton's 1870 science fiction novel The Coming Race, in an apparent satire on Darwin:

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."

It is commonly thought that a "twat" is a noun to describe a pregnant goldfish.[4][dead link] However a goldfish can't be impregnated and this definition of the word has never appeared in a respectable dictionary.[5]

Modern usage

Road sign pointing to Twatt, Shetland which was rated no. 4 of the most vulgar-sounding names in Rude Britain, along with its Orkney counterpart.

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)[6]
  • Informally as a verb meaning to hit someone[2]

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 after receiving three complaints[7]

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."[9]

Word usage ratings

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, meaning: "All ages admitted, but certain scenes may be unsuitable for young children. Should not disturb children aged 8 years or over", despite more than one instance of the word.[10] It also is not on the list of the Seven dirty words made famous by George Carlin in his 1972 monologue "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television".[11]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c Dictionary definition and etymology of "twat"
  2. ^ a b c "Definition of twat in English". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  3. ^ Mark Liberman (19 January 2005). "Twat v. Browning". Language Log. Retrieved 30 July 2005. 
  4. ^ "Twat". Dictionary.co.uk. [dead link]
  5. ^ John Lloyd, John Mitchinson (2010). QI: The Book of General Ignorance - The Noticeably Stouter Edition. Faber & Faber. p. 18. ISBN 0571273785. Retrieved 25 November 2014. 
  6. ^ The Origins and Common Usage of British Swear-words
  7. ^ Floot, Alison (21 August 2008). "'Offensive' word to be removed from Jacqueline Wilson book". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 March 2010. 
  8. ^ "David Cameron apologises for Twitter radio swearing gaffe". Telegraph Media Group. 29 Jul 2009. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  9. ^ Siddique, Haroon (29 July 2009). "David Cameron says sorry for 'twat' comment during radio interview". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 March 2010. 
  10. ^ Parents' Guide for Kes (1969)
  11. ^ Doug Linder. "Filthy Words by George Carlin". Law.umkc.edu. Retrieved 2014-02-18.