Barbs that bite

13th April 2001 at 01:00
"Why, thou clay brained guts, thou knotty pated fool, thou whoreson obscene greasy tallow catch." (Henry IV Part 1) Even before Shakespeare put Falstaff on stage the English, and their Celtic cousins, took delight in verbal abuse, mockery and name-calling in all its guises. Today's parliamentarians are lionised for their witty put-downs; dull statesmen suddenly becoming memorable for being likened to dead sheep or semi-trained polecats. Personal insults are stock-in-trade to our entertainers, while the webwise can log on, for a laugh, to www.insults.net.

Given the enoyment derived from other people's discomfort, it seems churlish to point out the pain and humiliation such taunts can cause. Yet, as a Cardiff University survey has discovered (page 13), playground name-calling such as "fatty", "slag" and even "specky four-eyes", can leave children scarred for life. The line between good-natured banter and bullying is difficult to draw. One solution might be to follow Canon Lane first school in north-west London (page 5) and ask the children. With luck, they'll combine responsibility with a good old-fashioned sense of humour.


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