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A fishy business

I am not very good with the sight of blood. And so conducting an interview while the interviewee's ear is bleeding profusely isn't ideal.

"So," I say to bleeding Year 8 pupil. "Why did the other boy bite you?"

He shrugs. "I called him a fish."

In terms of playground insults, it seems that "fish" is one of the worst - worse than all the f-words and c-words and n-words put together. From what I can gather, "fish", in this context, implies that you are smelly and poor, and has possible racist overtones (although none of the children can explain these overtones - they just are).

"Do you regret calling him a fish?"

"Not really," says the boy, dripping on to the table. "If you call him a son of a whore, a motherfucker or a nigger, he doesn't get upset. Because he isn't any of those things. So what's the point? But he is smelly and poor, so I called him a fish, and he got upset and bit me."

Both the boys got a three-day suspension. An hour after they returned, they were hanging out again, trading insults, basically back to normal.

Welcome to school, where the trading of insults is so frequent that if you want to be offended by that story, you probably shouldn't read on. Or go anywhere near a school.

Let's get this straight. I don't like insults. I don't like it when children trade them and I don't like it when adults trade them. In an ideal world, we would all say nice things to each other, all the time. But we don't live in an ideal world.

So, let's reduce the logic of the fishbiting scenario. Kid A attempts to goad Kid B with some insults that are way off the mark. Kid B thinks, "That's way off the mark," and doesn't react. Kid A pushes it and happens upon something that tweaks Kid B. Kid B reacts and bites him. They both get into a bit of trouble, are made to apologise to each other, and make friends again.

The biting aside, this seems comparatively - and depressingly - civilised, when measured against how grown-ups deal with insults in Adult World. The nasty things those two idiots said in social forums about the British soldiers killed in Afghanistan and stricken football player Fabrice Muamba were just that: idiots saying nasty things. But do they deserve prison sentences? People - who objected to them being offensive and unpleasant in the first place - calling for the pair to be lynched, raped andor killed? Mob rule dictating the actual rules? The kids wouldn't try to pull that kind of stuff on the last day of summer term.

One of the prices we pay for modern technology is that idiots are now able to broadcast their idiocy. But rather than wail, cry, gnash our teeth or indeed imprison the idiots, why not just do the more sensible thing and press the metaphorical mute button?

Insults, though unpleasant, are a necessary part of socialisation and development in school. It's a good and a hard lesson to teach: to walk away, to rise above it. And you know what? Most children get it. For the majority of them, the things that upset them in Year 8 no longer do by Year 11. It's called maturing - something a lot of adults could do with a dose of.

Chloe Combi teaches at a comprehensive in London.

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