Lost in translation

Hugh Muir, back doing the day-job on The Guardian Diary, today encounters a linguistic problem. In full:

… it has fallen to Northern Ireland assembly Speaker Willie Hay to rule that the term “village idiot” is not acceptable for use within the chamber, after health minister Edwin Poots said his political rival Kieran McCarthy was acting like one. This appears to overturn precedent. Lord Alderdice, a previous Speaker, judged “eejit” to be OK. The key seems to be pronunciation. Fewer problems in the Republic, where there is a list of words banned in the Dáil, including chancer, coward, guttersnipe, rat, scumbag and fascist. But then they had reason to act after one former representative shouted “Fuck you, Deputy Stagg, fuck you!” Seemed better to have some rules.

Two points of clarification, there, Ceann Comhairle:

First, the loose mouth

Emmet Stagg (brother of the more famous, loopier, and more defunct Frank) can look after himself, and needs no defence. Anyway, as a Labour man with a TCD connexion, he gets respected here.

However, Paul Gogarty deserved all he got, and has a track-record for staging similar stunts — Babygate, Callely, numerous “celebrity” outings for RTÉ (not that the bar for celeb-status is that much lower in Dublin). He won the soggy biscuit when he denounced Free Education for Everyone protestors as “muppets” and supported the physical intervention of the Gardai — doubtless in retaliation for FEE previously taking over his office. How Green! What a brave civic activist!

The electors of Dublin Mid-West had Gogarty’s number, all right: in the 2011 General Election, he lost his seat ignominiously. He took all of 3.5 % of First Preferences, limping in eighth of the fourteen runners. The previous outing he had taken 10.8%, and finished second after transfers.

After Gogarty’s excursion in English guttersnipery, it involved a change in Irish parliamentary proceedings:

CHANGES ARE likely to be made to the document dictating acceptable parliamentary language in the Dáil and Seanad after Green Party TD Paul Gogarty’s defence of his use of an expletive in the Dáil last week.

The 18-member Dáil committee on procedure and privileges, which meets tomorrow, will deal with Mr Gogarty’s use of the “f-word”, directed against Labour party whip Emmet Stagg.

Second, a cultural chasm

Anyone familiar with Hibernicisms knows that “eejit” and “idiot”are no way near synonyms.

You’d take a drink with an “eejit”, even a “mad eejit”, and even respect him. You take a swing at an idiot, and be cheered for doing so and laying him out. Gogarty, for example, belongs in this latter category.

Believe it or not (number 94)

There really is an academic study on what is acceptable in a parliamentary exchange. The key “finding” goes this way:

Parliamentary insults are offensive rhetorical acts performed in a highly competitive institutional setting. They are deliberate in the sense that they are intended to be perceived and recognised as such by the person targeted. Unparliamentary language uses can provide important clues about moral and social standards, prejudices, taboos, as well as value judgements of different social and political groups in a community. Because they underlie culturally defined negative values and norms, insults are meant to reduce the targeted person, group or institution (and what they stand for) to stereotypically undesirable or detestable attributes. Cross-cultural studies are particularly enlightening in this respect, since it can safely be assumed that the forms and functions of insults and their respective feedbacks vary in different cultures and institutional settings.

Enjoy that? Then your sociology degree must be showing.

Compare and contrast:

1. David Cameron, 6th December 2005:

… we need to change, and we will change, the way we behave. I’m fed up with the Punch and Judy politics of Westminster, the name calling, backbiting, point scoring, finger pointing.

2. David Cameron, 18th April 2012:

The right hon. Gentleman will not take any lectures on the fuel strike because he is in the pockets of the people who called the fuel strike. That’s right. They vote for his policies, they sponsor his Members of Parliament, they got him elected. Absolutely irresponsible—that is what we have heard once again from the right hon. Gentleman. Not good enough to run the Opposition, not good enough to run the country.

Of which Ann Treneman said in her Parliamentary Sketch for The Times [£]:

Dave did his usual Flashman, refusing to answer the questions, changing the subject to Ken Livingstone’s taxes, playing to the gallery. He was sneery, insulting, preening. When you seeDave like this, you just know he deserves to end up in panto.

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Filed under Ann Treneman, culture, David Cameron, Guardian, Irish Labour, Irish politics, Irish Times, reading, Times, Tories.

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