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OK UK?: Sorry, Did I Just Insult You?

Updated on December 15, 2011
Erudite and a bearded bard...
Erudite and a bearded bard...

I'm So Sorry...

One of the greatest differences between the body politic in the USA and the UK is the language. American rhetoric is direct, blunt and careful not to use words above a sixth grade vocabulary. British rhetoric has always been multi layered and peppered liberally with surgically precise wit. It has become less clever, of late, more (shudder) American, but it is still deeply entrenched in our national ethos.

A simple, but highly illustrative, example is how the Members of Parliament address each other. The rule (enforced) is to address each other as The Honorable.. . It could be the honorable gentleman, lady, member for Upper Puddlington, but honor is due, and without undue sarcasm. Uncivil discourse is met by a chorus of boos and shouts of "shame", which sounds childish, but is effective in creating immediate censure. It is the political equivalent of the common qualifier "bless him" or "bless his little cotton socks" in regular use by the grandmothers of England. The phrase is tacked on to a rather more harsh observation, such as, "Oh, the man is a total moron, bless him".

So, rather than "you are an idiot and completely wrong" which would be drowned out by the noise from the rest of the assembly, a more, um, gentile version would be crafted...

"It would appear that the honorable member of the opposition is not in full command of his faculties today, so, sadly, his factual misrepresentations have become an embarrassing insult to the collective intelligence of the fellow members of this house. One can only hope for an immediate reconsideration of this position."

Ouch, but not so much, right?

And, it makes for spectacular sound bites.

You can almost enjoy, "Sadly, discussions have broken down with the honorable gentleman opposite due to unforeseen medical issues. They will continue once my colleague retains the services of an eminent proctologist."

Yes, he just said his head was up his ass.

Or, what about, "Our meeting was reasonably productive, though without the intervention of a Dr. Doolittle it is unlikely that further progress can be made." which simply means "I can't talk to this animal."

The advantage of this grandiloquence is that it is unlikely to inflame anyone with less than a university education, and ensures that the common man remains comfortably outside the political arena.

This points out a further difference between our two countries. In England, only a very few regular people actually care about politics. In fact, the only people who care are newspaper editors and a couple of pundits. The majority will vote when the time comes, but since it is almost compulsory to vote as your parent's did, there is not a lot of thinking involved. The so called "chattering classes" will give themselves verbal paroxysms at dinner parties, but would be restrained from doing anything about anything, by a combination of manners and cowardice. In any case, their expertise lies in talking, not doing.

In America there is a great deal more passion about politics amongst regular “folk”. Still mostly chatter, but with twenty-four-hour talk radio hosts and TV pundits spewing vitriol and ignorance into the minds of the aforementioned regular folks, every now and then, someone, somewhere, will interpret that as a call to action.

I am primarily a humor writer, and wish to tread lightly in areas that cannot, and should not, be trivialized. But, there is a world of difference between what a rather irate gent with a furled umbrella, and a guy with an assault weapon, can do.

Now, it is true that the Brits can overdo it, and as my mother would say, "be too clever by half," but just as good manners and restraint can be the oil that smoothes the friction of disagreement, so too can humor.

The wit blunts the attack, the point is made, but it is somehow less personal.

The antithesis of wit is to be found in many blog responses (fortunately not hub pages), which often devolve into crude personal attacks with expletives used throughout as verbs, nouns, and adjectives. I have been shocked at some of the comments following the most innocent of articles or videos. Is this what happens to discourse when the illusory mask of anonymity comes into play? And, is this how people really feel, or is it just the verbal equivalent of punching the wall in anger?

I feel fortunate to have found a forum where civil discourse is the norm, because it is natural and normal to disagree, and I suspect, very important for the health of society. I do, however, take issue with certain self-proclaimed “plain speakers”. Forthright can be admirable, but rude is still rude. Try a little diplomacy, inject a little humor, and please be self-effacing if proven wrong.

Some of the worst examples of inappropriate rhetoric can be found in negative political campaigning. The idea that two people, from the same political party, can publicly tear into each other, so that one can then stand against the opposition, seems counter intuitive. Rational people do not have that short of an attention span. Having claimed that your opponent in the primary was a baby-eating terrorist, you now expect his supporters to rally to your camp to defeat a similarly savaged person from the other party? Really?

Take a lesson from American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. People love to vote for something.

Now, I recognize that there may be some who hold views tangential to mine. Their lack of perspicacity is unfortunate, as that first step, well meaning, but misguided, forces them onto a path of ever increasing incorrectness. Once imbued of that false certainty, it is unlikely that redirection is possible. However, I am not one to mock the unfortunate or afflicted but would rather offer them sanctuary from ridicule in the generous embrace of my ideas and opinions.

So much nicer than “You are wrong, you moron, so just agree with me!”

And yes, I had to use a dictionary…

Dear Hub Reader

If you enjoy this hub, please check out my book,

Homo Domesticus; A Life Interrupted By Housework,

A collection of my best writings woven into a narrative on a very strange year in my life.

Available directly from:



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    • ChrisLincoln profile image

      ChrisLincoln 6 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California


      A smile is a great reward!

      Thank you for reading and leaving a comment,


    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      I just purchased a book of the wit and wisdom of Oscar Wilde at a yard sale. He was a master at insulting you above your comprehension level. This was very entertaining. I got tired of reading a lot of mediocre writing and decided to search the word "perspicacity" to see if there were HP'rs using elevated speech. I might have known it would be in a parody of British overspeak.

      Whether you used a dictionary or not, hats off to you Chris, you left me with a smile on my face. =:)

    • ChrisLincoln profile image

      ChrisLincoln 7 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California


      Thanks for dropping by and leaving a message, much appreciated.

      After nearly twenty years in the US, I know I have lost my "edge", which is not altogether a bad thing - especially after watching Mr. Gervais at the Golden Globes!

      As my wife reminds me, it's nice to be nice sometimes

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 7 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      I worked with a charming Brit once, and it usually took a couple days to realize he'd insulted you.

      That's also what made it so much fun to watch Benny Hill...even their slapstick is subtle.

    • ChrisLincoln profile image

      ChrisLincoln 7 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California

      CNN shows PWQT sometimes, but usually comment right over the top like English is a foreign language!

      Thanks for the read, comment and follow, allvery much appreciated.


    • Lymond profile image

      Lymond 7 years ago from UK

      if you watch the longer programs like PMQ's you get some of the funny stuff they say, the news and stuff like that only carries the important bits unless they've been particularly insulting.

      There was a good one over christmas about a pantomime dame...

    • ChrisLincoln profile image

      ChrisLincoln 7 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California


      You are closer to the source than I am, and I think that makes it harder to British TV full of ten millisecond sound bites like the US?


    • ChrisLincoln profile image

      ChrisLincoln 7 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California


      I have to be careful though, it is easy to get carried away...

      My wife, a California girl, usually edits the more obscure or extreme components. No writer wants to lose their readers!

    • Lymond profile image

      Lymond 7 years ago from UK

      ...I called the Honourable Member a liar, it is true and I am sorry for it. The Honourable Member may place the punctuation where he wishes...

      I think you're right, politicians wit has become less and less entertaining although comments made about politicians like Disraeli was that their wit somewhat helped to gloss over a slight lack of action.

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      To wit: Your humor is English. Nothwithstanding you write using the King's English, even Americans can understand... Flag up

    • ChrisLincoln profile image

      ChrisLincoln 7 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California


      I was not so fortunate. I was there with my classmates as the House of Lords "debated" the need for an upgrade to the sewer system in Swanage. There were about six people there, three were asleep, and the dull left a mark on my soul!

      Prime Minister's Question Time is sometimes shown on TV out here, and can be very entertaining, but the very best debates are those held at the Universities. I was the Convenor of Debates at Newcastle University one year, and observed some incredible minds at work. Funny, clever, acerbic and enlightning. It is an art form when done well. Thanks for dropping by - I know you are busy every morning with the pop and the cooking...

    • ChrisLincoln profile image

      ChrisLincoln 7 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California


      With a name like Lincoln, I believe I stand a good chance of getting elected! I believe I would enjoy the oportunity to fortify my finincial well-being through public service...


    • ChrisLincoln profile image

      ChrisLincoln 7 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California


      Thanks. Once I started writing this and getting into that mindset, it was hard to stop! I remember one of my teachers telling me to "lower my life expectations so that I would become comfortable with the lack of success." Took me a while to figure out he had just called me.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 7 years ago

      I had the privilege of sitting in the House of Lords and I thought the discourse was fantastic and lively.

    • attemptedhumour profile image

      attemptedhumour 7 years ago from Australia

      Hi Chris, I reckon you'd make a good politician yourself. Tact and diplomacy, with a dash of humour, works much better than a sledge hammer. Applied correctly, of course. As this hub so aptly demonstrates.

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 7 years ago from Canada

      Ha ha!

      "Sadly, discussions have broken down with the honorable gentleman opposite due to unforeseen medical issues. They will continue once my colleague retains the services of an eminent proctologist."

      Great humour! I love this hub ... I like the English way of insulting each other much more ... great hub, Chris!