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Mind your language

Why Marina Hyde's use of the word cretin is insensitive and wrong

The Elton John-bothering Guardian columnist Marina Hyde argues for a crackdown on "vile chants" at football matches. Quite rightly, she finds the Arsène Wenger padeophile heckle "hideous", and criticises the "Football Association's strategy of doing precisely nothing". Her case would have been stronger, however, if she had chosen her words with a little more sensitivity herself. Her headline reads: "Chanting cretins need to be silenced".

According to the Oxford Concise Dictionary, a cretin is "a person who is deformed and mentally retarded as the result of a thyroid deficiency". Even the Italian court acknowledges that "it is not OK to call a . . . rival a cretin", or so reports the Life in Italy website. Some time last year, Sarkozy got in trouble for calling a farmer a "poor cretin". It's nasty, and it's politically wrong.

Where the Cretins Motorcycle Club of Seattle and San Francisco -- self-professed "misfits of the motorcycle world" -- wears the word with pride, Hyde seems to be using it in its Urban Dictionary sense:

Football hooligans who wear specific clothing to associate themselves to "their" club and make a point that they are looking for trouble e.g. Burberry caps, jeans etc. Also, football hooligans, loudmouths, drunkards etc in general are typically "cretinous".

Charming. The Urban Dictionary goes on to explain how "cretin" also applies to:

Ethnic minorities whose objective is to intimidate, steal, sell drugs, flunk off school, spew forth native commonalities in a drudgingly pathetic manner (you know, the usual).

I'd feel better agreeing with Hyde if she kept better semantic company. Perhaps her early career as a temporary secretary for the Sun left its mark.