Competition - Win a bottle of champagne

No 3593 Set by Margaret Rogers

Smallweed in the Guardian asked: "What is an oik? And how does an oik relate to a lout, oaf or yobbo?" We asked you to enlighten him.

Report by Ms de Meaner

This comp flushed a large crop of new names out of the undergrowth. Well done, Ruth Bygrave, Adrian Fry, Tyn y Pwll, Jenny Clarkson, Dai Dogooder - and A G Wigley for the longest list of insulting terms I have ever seen. Although you didn't quite make it, keep trying! Hon menshes to D A Prince, John O'Byrne, G M Davis and Anne Du Croz. £15 to the winners, even Ian Birchall, who broke the rules (ah, but he was funny). The bottle goes to M E Ault.

An oik is a contemptible personage of school age, whose habits are inimical to more discerning pupils (or nerds); a yobbo is an oik who has left school without proceeding to gainful employment, and whose pleasure is casual violence; a dork is a yobbo with carnal desires below his station; a lout is a large yobbo, less athletic after the ingestion of alcoholic beverages; an oaf is a large oik; a berk is a yobbo who has attempted consecutive sentences; a geek is a yobbo with aspirations towards becoming a berk; a perisher is a very junior oik, as depicted in cartoons; a dickhead is a dork with attitudinal problems; a prat is an elderly perisher who would like to be a dickhead but dares not leave the house; a sap is a perisher who would prefer to be a nerd; a drongo is a prat with the potential to be a dickhead but the inclination to be a sap; a schlump is a dim and ill-dressed lout ; a lemon is a very harmless oik, too dim to be a nerd; a jerk is a geek who thinks he is a yobbo; and a mug is a berk who voted Conservative.

Will Bellenger

Insults like oik, oaf, yobbo, clot and hooligan are identified by Professor Pratt as superstructural excluding terms. Whereas those like scrounger, lout and yahoo are rooted in the economic base. Indeed, the lout is tied to the base both as consumer - of the definitive lager - and as producer, in which role he is defined by his negativity.

However, Dr Don Key calls Pratt's distinctions misleading. Taking oik as an example, Key notes that it is a class-engendered exclusivity, found largely in public school circles. By deconstructing the specificities of the spelling, Key argues, the universally understood letters OK are divided by an I, a clear allusion to an egotistical appropriation of the status quo. R Sole notes the moral censure present in many insults, locating oik firmly among these, with wanker, geek, fucker and shithead. Other morally neutral terms, such as feather-merchant, oaf, skinhead and nerd, merely suggest a lack in the recipient (of size, intelligence, hair and fashion sense, respectively). Prevailing insults, argues Ally Katte, are largely formulated from a male perspective. Women can truly be equal with men only when they can insult each other with terms like penis, dog-daughter and big boy's shirt . . .

M E Ault

To all Labour Party secretaries

In our vital task of regaining the core vote, we shall, unfortunately, have to encounter people of the sort one wouldn't want to invite to a dinner party. However, it is crucial not to see these as an undifferentiated mass of scum, but to distinguish clearly between oiks and yobbos.

- Yobbos drive big cars and don't care who they knock down.

- Oiks want to "reclaim the streets" and might scratch your Porsche.

l Yobbos sit in McDonald's all day.

- Oiks vandalise scientific trials of GM crops.

l Yobbos shout their mouths off about asylum seekers.

- Oiks join the Anti-Nazi League, hoping to punch up a few fascists.

- Yobbos make grossly sexist remarks about women.

- Oiks think women have as much right to be violent as men. (A lot of oiks are women.)

Remember John Prescott is a yobbo, but Dennis Skinner is an oik. (Tony Benn's an oik, too, but a nicely spoken one.)

Yobbos are our natural supporters; we take their prejudices seriously. You wouldn't want them actually to attend a focus group, but their views should be constantly referred to. Oiks have no place in a modern Labour Party.

Ian Birchall

From: Sir David Attenborough

Sir ,We wish to inform your readers of the near-extinction of the British oik. The oik flourished in many niches of the class system which have been grubbed up by the years of meritocratic rule, and has now been pushed to the margins of its territory by successive waves of competitors: the home-grown yobbo and pondlife, and the more exotic raas, shtarka and wedgeass. Frequently confused with the loutish yahoo and palooka, the oik displays a characteristically disreputable plumage, without the aggressive mating display of the bohunk or goon, leaving it vulnerable to genetic dilution from the suburban berk, the inner-city dipshit and the Home Counties herbert. If the oik is not to join the sad list of extinctions headed by the heel, bad hat and face-ache, then we must act at once to preserve the bottom-feeding habitat of this once-flourishing companion of the toe-rag and woollyback. From his last redoubt in the Essex marshes, the oik must be encouraged to out-compete the grungeking, sleazo and douchebag so that his aspirants may once again be the unheard glory of the English summer.

Nick MacKinnon

No 3596 Set by Leonora Casement

We'd like recipes or restaurant reviews (or simply descriptions of new types of fruit or veg) that involve the weirdest GM foods you can imagine. Max 200 words by 16 September.

E-mail: comp@

This article first appeared in the 06 September 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - Whatever happened to liberty?

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

When will the government take action to tackle the plight of circus animals?

Britain is lagging behind the rest of the world - and innocent animals are paying the price. 

It has been more than a year since the Prime Minister reiterated his commitment to passing legislation to impose a ban on the suffering of circus animals in England and Wales. How long does it take to get something done in Parliament?

I was an MP for more than two decades, so that’s a rhetorical question. I’m well aware that important issues like this one can drag on, but the continued lack of action to help stop the suffering of animals in circuses is indefensible.

Although the vast majority of the British public doesn’t want wild animals used in circuses (a public consultation on the issue found that more than 94 per cent of the public wanted to see a ban implemented and the Prime Minister promised to prohibit the practice by January 2015, no government bill on this issue was introduced during the last parliament.

A private member’s bill, introduced in 2013, was repeatedly blocked in the House of Commons by three MPs, so it needs a government bill to be laid if we are to have any hope of seeing this practice banned.

This colossal waste of time shames Britain, while all around the world, governments have been taking decisive action to stop the abuse of wild animals in circuses. Just last month, Catalonia’s Parliament overwhelmingly voted to ban it. While our own lawmakers dragged their feet, the Netherlands approved a ban that comes into effect later this year, as did Malta and Mexico. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, North America’s longest-running circus, has pledged to retire all the elephants it uses by 2018. Even in Iran, a country with precious few animal-welfare laws, 14 states have banned this archaic form of entertainment. Are we really lagging behind Iran?

The writing has long been on the wall. Only two English circuses are still clinging to this antiquated tradition of using wild animals, so implementing a ban would have very little bearing on businesses operating in England and Wales. But it would have a very positive impact on the animals still being exploited.

Every day that this legislation is delayed is another one of misery for the large wild animals, including tigers, being hauled around the country in circus wagons. Existing in cramped cages and denied everything that gives their lives meaning, animals become lethargic and depressed. Their spirits broken, many develop neurotic and abnormal behaviour, such as biting the bars of their cages and constantly pacing. It’s little wonder that such tormented creatures die far short of their natural life spans.

Watching a tiger jump through a fiery hoop may be entertaining to some, but we should all be aware of what it entails for the animal. UK laws require that animals be provided with a good quality of life, but the cruelty inherent in confining big, wild animals, who would roam miles in the wild, to small, cramped spaces and forcing them to engage in unnatural and confusing spectacles makes that impossible in circuses.

Those who agree with me can join PETA’s campaign to urge government to listen to the public and give such animals a chance to live as nature intended.


The Right Honourable Ann Widdecombe was an MP for 23 years and served as Shadow Home Secretary. She is a novelist, documentary maker and newspaper columnist.