Language changes over time and words and expressions which were once considered grossly offensive lose their power to offend. The words bloody and bugger are nowadays scarcely considered swear words by most people, but in decades past they were considered deeply offensive and banned from most forms of public speech. Likewise even the words piss, shit and fuck are no longer as powerful as they used to be and the wider public takes a far more relaxed view about their usage than it once did. Back in the 1960s dropping the f-bomb on national television caused outraged newspaper editorials about the impending doom of civilisation. These days it scarcely raises an eyebrow.
On the other hand some words which were once widespread in everyday language and in print are now tabooed. This is particularly the case with epithets which refer negatively to a person’s racial origins or sexual orientation. The N-word, the P-word, the p**f word, and the f****t word were freely banded about in the 1970s sitcoms and movies which culture secretary Nadine Dorries thinks were ruined by snowflake lefties, but nowadays most people would agree that there is no justification for the use of these hate words, and most certainly under no circumstances by people who do not belong to the communities which these words are used to abuse.
It is because of the shifting nature of language that the telecom and broadcasting regulator Ofcom periodically revises the list of words and terms which it advises broadcasters to be careful in using. In its latest advice Ofcom has also looked at some of the words current in the Scottish independence debate. Ofcom looked at the word nat, used by opponents of independence to refer insultingly to independence supporters (although they also use the word “sep” which wasn’t examined by Ofcom and which is arguably more offensive) and ruled that it is mildly offensive, advising broadcasters to be careful in permitting its use.
Ofcom also looked at the word yoon, which unlike nat,the use of which is widespread in print and speech amongst British nationalist politicians, seems to be almost entirely confined to social media as a derogatory term for the zoomier end of British nationalist opposition to independence. Interestingly, Ofcom ruled that while both the words nat and yoon should be considered mildly offensive, the word yoon is to be considered as more offensive than the word nat.
Both the words nat and yoon are contractions, the first syllables respectively of words which are not generally considered problematic in themselves, the words nationalist and unionist. It should be pointed out right away that just because a word is a contraction of a perfectly acceptable word, this does not mean it cannot be offensive. The P-word which is an unacceptable term of abuse used against people of a South Asian family background is a contraction of an adjective which is not problematic when it is used appropriately to refer to the people, culture or government of Pakistan. Equally the first syllable of the word Japanese when used by itself is widely regarded as a racial slur against people of Japanese origin or descent. Just because a term of abuse is a contraction of a non-abusive word doesn’t mean it can’t be offensive.
The interesting question here is why Ofcom ruled that the word yoon was more offensive than the word nat. It could be argued that objectively it’s the word nat which should be considered more offensive. The word nat implies that the mainstream independence movement is driven by feeling of ethnic and cultural superiority and hatred of those who are not Scottish. In reality, many people who support Scottish independence, particularly those on the left, are not politically nationalist, with its overtones of xenophobia and assertions of superiority, while mainstream Scottish nationalism is of the decidedly civic variety, inclusive and welcoming of migrants.
If anything it’s the British nationalism of many opponents of independence which is of the xenophobic and exclusive sort, based upon assertions of British exceptionalism. Yet the use of the word nat by opponents of independence to categorise independence supporters implies that this exclusionary, xenophobic and triumphalist British nationalism is not really nationalist at all, and that nationalism is a sin confined solely to those who would prefer to see an independent Scotland.
As a contraction of unionist, the word yoon on the other hand does not miscategorise those to whom it is applied. However because it rhymes with loon, buffoon, baboon, and balloon it could be argued that it’s got an offensive sound to it which “nat” lacks, and it has to be said that the word yoon is meant to annoy. Yoon is a retaliatory term which postdates the invention of the word nat. The word yoon was invented and deployed by independence supporting people who are often not nationalists of any variety but who are heartily fed up with being called nats by hypocrites who espouse a far more toxic and cancerous species of triumphalist and exceptionalist nationalism whose defining conceit is that it is not nationalist at all because it’s British.
But the real reason why Ofcom has ruled that its respondents felt yoon to be more offensive than nat is surely down to the fact that opponents of independence are extremely quick to claim victim status and many of them have little better to do than trawl social media in search of things to feel outraged by. After all there is a significant body of British nationalist opinion which devotes itself to the entirely spurious claim that supporters of Scottish independence are primarily motivated by anti-English racism. Finding things to feel offended about in the behaviour and language of independence supporters is one of the most important distraction tactics employed by opponents of independence in order to divert public opinion from the truly offensive and damaging words and deeds of a right wing English nationalist British Conservative government. There is no one who is quicker to claim they’re a victim than a privileged person who feels their privilege is threatened. Scottish independence threatens the privilege of British nationalism in Scotland, that’s why British nats are so quick to claim that they are offended.
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I have a physiotherapy appointment tomorrow, so there will be no new blog post because, as usual, I’ll be wiped out afterwards.
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