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The word twat has various functions. It 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 having arisen 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."
- Dictionary definition and etymology of "twat"
- Mark Liberman (19 January 2005). "Twat v. Browning". Language Log. Retrieved 30 July 2005.
- 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.