Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Dot Wordsworth

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Dot Wordsworth

Article excerpt

In Polite Conversation, Jonathan Swift presents dialogues made up of clichés, banalities and catchphrases. When Miss Notable makes a remark seen as witty, Mr Neverout exclaims: 'Why, Miss, you shine this Morning like a shitten Barn-Door.'

Perhaps we might not admit such an adjective, even in this archaic form, to polite company -- except that among the chattering classes no word is entirely ostracised. In 2001, Barbara Amiel, Lady Black of Crossharbour, wrote in the Daily Telegraph that 'the ambassador of a major EU country politely told a gathering at my home that the current troubles in the world were all because of "that shitty little country Israel".' The remark was presented as the 'open expression' of anti-Semitism, though the man who made it, Daniel Bernard, the French ambassador to London, denied that. He was transferred to Algeria, where he died shortly afterwards.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives 'contemptible' as one of its meanings, and I wondered at the time whether Bernard thought it had the effect of reinforcing little rather than adding a scatological element of disgust. …

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