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Should Andy Burton be fired for calling someone “a bit of a looker”?

Is calling someone a “looker” any worse than calling them good-looking?

The Sky Sports broadcaster Andy Burton has denied that he has been suspended, instead insisting that he has been "stood down" from tomorrow night's Carling Cup match between Birmingham and West Ham.

Either way, it seems he's become embroiled in the scandal surrounding sexist comments from his fellow Sky Sports broadcasters Andy Gray and Richard Keys, who were suspended by the channel after being recorded agreeing that a football official, Siân Massey, would need the offside rule explaining to her because she was a woman. This afternoon it was announced that Gray has been sacked for his comments.

For his part, Burton had said prior to going on air, before last Saturday's game between Liverpool and Wolves, that Massey was a "bit of a looker". There will surely now be considerable debate about whether those comments, taken away from the other comments made by his co-presenters, should be considered sexist in their own right.

One online dictionary has "looker" down as originating in 1893 and the use of the word in this context being "a very attractive person, especially a woman or girl". But not, one should add, a word that can be used only about a woman or a girl. Indeed, in the Guardian, in Simon Hattenstone's 1997 interview with the actor Pete Postlethwaite, he described the actor so:

However often you've watched Pete Postlethwaite on stage or screen, it's hard to prepare for the close-up: the compact body, dainty feet dressed in Kickers, the skin – cross-hatched with thin red contours – resembling a faintly exotic cheese, and those cheekbones bursting out of his head like swollen knuckles. Yet, against all odds, Pete Postlethwaite is a bit of a looker.

But a quick internet search for the use of the term does suggest it's more often used about women. Commenting on Beyoncé's Grammy Awards win in February last year, the Scotsman's Gary Flockhart said of the singer: "I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't start frothing at the mouth when the talk turns to the singer. That's probably because she's a bit of a looker, not to mention one of the best singers on the planet."

Of course, we can't all be "lookers". In a review of the book The Bolter by the Daily Mail's Craig Brown, he says of its heroine: "Idina Sackville, was, to put it bluntly, one of the greatest slags of her day . . . certainly no looker." Charming! The Daily Mail goes a step further in its review of the film Run Lola Run, describing the lead actress, Franka Potente, as, "certainly a looker as well as a goer".

Can the Daily Telegraph's use of the term settle the question – is calling someone a "looker" sexist? Perhaps there was no better opportunity than its review of Sex and the City 2, featuring as it does Sarah Jessica Parker's character Carrie Bradshaw, who herself has been analysed ad infinitum as to the degree of her feminism or otherwise.

The Telegraph's Harry Mount declared: "The penny dropped. The audience loved Sarah Jessica Parker because she's not much of a looker – like a very thin Bette Midler. With Carrie Bradshaw, there's none of the feelings of envy or self-loathing that hit them on seeing a gorgeous model getting hitched."

So, is calling someone a "looker" any worse than calling them good-looking? Is calling someone good-looking enough to get them the sack? It seems Andy Burton may be about to find out.

Jason Stamper is the New Statesman's technology correspondent.

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