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.

Yo Zushi is a contributing writer for the New Statesman. His latest album, It Never Entered My Mind, is out now on Eidola Records and is on Spotify here.

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Cones and cocaine: the ice cream van's links with organised crime

A cold war is brewing to the tinkling of "Greensleeves".

Anyone who has spent a summer in this country will be familiar with the Pavlovian thrill the first tinny notes of “Greensleeves” stir within the stolid British breast.

The arrival of the ice cream van – usually at least two decades older than any other vehicle on the road, often painted with crude approximations of long-forgotten cartoon characters and always, without fail, exhorting fellow motorists to “Mind that child!” – still feels like a simple pleasure of the most innocent kind.

The mobile ice cream trade, though, has historical links with organised crime.

Not only have the best routes been the subject of many, often violent turf wars, but more than once lollies have served as cover for goods of a more illicit nature, most notoriously during the Glasgow “Ice Cream Wars” of the early 1980s, in which vans were used as a front for fencing stolen goods and dealing drugs, culminating in an arson attack that left six people dead.

Although the task force set up to tackle the problem was jokingly nicknamed the “Serious Chimes Squad” by the press, the reality was somewhat less amusing. According to Thomas “T C” Campbell, who served almost 20 years for the 1984 murders before having his conviction overturned in 2004, “A lot of my friends were killed . . . I’ve been caught with axes, I’ve been caught with swords, open razors, every conceivable weapon . . . meat cleavers . . . and it was all for nothing, no gain, nothing to it, just absolute madness.”

Tales of vans being robbed at gunpoint and smashed up with rocks abounded in the local media of the time and continue to pop up – a search for “ice cream van” on Google News throws up the story of a Limerick man convicted last month of supplying “wholesale quantities” of cocaine along with ice cream. There are also reports of the Mob shifting more than 40,000 oxycodone pills through a Lickety Split ice cream van on Staten Island between 2009 and 2010.

Even for those pushing nothing more sinister than a Strawberry Split, the ice cream business isn’t always light-hearted. BBC Radio 4 devoted an entire programme last year to the battle for supremacy between a local man who had been selling ice creams in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea since 1969 and an immigrant couple – variously described in the tabloids as Polish and Iraqi but who turned out to be Greek – who outbid him when the council put the contract out to tender. The word “outsiders” cropped up more than once.

This being Britain, the hostilities in Northumberland centred around some rather passive-aggressive parking – unlike in Salem, Oregon, where the rivalry from 2009 between an established local business and a new arrival from Mexico ended in a highish-speed chase (for an ice cream van) and a showdown in a car park next to a children’s playground. (“There’s no room for hate in ice cream,” one of the protagonists claimed after the event.) A Hollywood production company has since picked up the rights to the story – which, aptly, will be co-produced by the man behind American Sniper.

Thanks to competition from supermarkets (which effortlessly undercut Mister Softee and friends), stricter emission laws in big cities that have hit the UK’s ageing fleet particularly hard, and tighter regulations aimed at combating childhood obesity, the trade isn’t what it used to be. With margins under pressure and a customer base in decline, could this summer mark the start of a new cold war?

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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