Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tory toffs, plod and plebs

Tory Minister, Andrew Mitchell is in hot water over his alleged outburst to police officers at the Houses of Parliament. It is reported that he swore at them, using the dreaded f-word, but much worse than that for a Tory government consisting largely of ex-public schoolboys who are generally seen to be aloof, arrogant and out of touch (even by their own nannies), he called the police plebs. Worse than the f-word? Really? Well, it depends on what you think of its significance. Some describe it as "politically toxic".

Plebs is a back-formation from a Latin word plebeian used in ancient Rome, basically meaning "of the common people" as opposed to being from the ruling aritocracy. As this BBC News Magazine article explains, the word gained currency in British public schools which often modelled themselves on ancient classical tradition and in the class divide that such an education created.

Given the timing too - in a week where two police constables were shot dead in what appears to have been an ambush in Manchester - it's not really a great week for a Tory MP to belittle the men and women who are protecting them and shows again the power of language to reflect social attitudes when it's used.


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