British twitter on if a twat is the same as a twit
London | August 22, 2008 11:35:06 AM IST
Britons are far from being prudes when it comes to salacious writing. They have the entire Victorian era to swear by. Using a questionable vowel in a four-letter word normally does not cause panic, unless it appears in a book for children.
Jacqueline Wilson has arrived at this literary truth the hard way.
One of Britain's best selling authors has been made to look foolish after a woman decided she will not have her grand-niece read Wilson's "My Sister Jodie" when she found that the four-letter word, twit, appears later in the text as twat.
A misprint or not, the woman's complaint has led the book's publishers, Random House, to remove the word from the next edition and superstore, Asda, to remove it from its shelves across the country.
It all began when Anne Dixon from County Durham bought a copy of the book as a gift for her great-niece Eve Coulson, aged 9.
As a precaution - to make sure that the book was not too sad for Eve, not to check for obscenity - Dixon, 55, decided to read it herself. "I got to the page where the reference was made to a 'toffeenosed twit'," she said. "On the next page the word changed. I thought I was mistaken, but I saw to my shock it had been repeated twice again.
"I am not a prude. In fact, I am quite broadminded, but this is completely inappropriate for children. They should not have to be subjected to trash and vulgarity. I did not expect this from a well-respected author and do not want my young niece to have to see this obscene slang."
Dixon sent an e-mail to Dame Jacqueline but when she did not reply she complained to the Stanley branch of Asda, from which she had bought the book. Asda has now withdrawn the title from its stores nationwide until it is amended by Random House.
Perhaps the reason for Dame Jacqueline's failure to reply was sheer embarrassment. According to Random House sources, she was unaware of the word's reference to the female genitalia. Her dictionary, The Times was told, listed it as meaning "a foolish or despicable person".
According to the Collins English dictionary, there are three meanings for the word twat: The female genitals, a girl or woman considered sexually active and "a foolish or despicable person (unknown origin)".
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary says twat means "vulva" often used in the "vulgar", its origin "unknown".
However, a dictionary for kids on the web, http://dictionary.kids.net.au/word/twat offers the meaning: "A man who is a stupid incompetent fool".
The mother of everything British, Encyclopaedia Britannica, has no results for the word on its web site at all. It tells you: "There are currently no full text results for your search 'twat'. Please check to see if you spelt your query correctly. Or, try a different or more general query term".
Twit, on the other hand, means "a silly person" or "fool" in all dictionaries.
No wonder, then, that British authors preferring to spell twit with an 'a', to give them the benefit of doubt, may have chosen to go for the non-sexual meaning of the word.
To that extent, Dame Jacqueline is in good company. The poet Robert Browning included it in his dramatic poem Pippa Passes (1841), under the perhaps mistaken impression that it meant some kind of nun's headwear: "The owls and bats/ Cowls and twats/ Monks and nuns/ In a cloister's moods."
The popular theory is that Browning was misled by a scurrilous poem of 1660, which included the couplet: "They'd talk't of his having a Cardinall's Hat/ They'd send him as soon an Old Nun's Twat."
Dame Jacqueline, who has sold more than 20 million books in Britain and whose stories have been translated into more than 30 languages, also has the support of John Simpson, the chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.
He said: "I do not think it is felt to be the worst swear word in the language. It is used to mean a mere fool without any indication of what its original meaning is. I am a bit surprised that it has been taken out."
A spokeswoman for Random House said: "We are very sorry if anyone is offended by the language. Jacqueline Wilson aims to reflect the realities of modern life. In the context of the character we felt the word was used in a way that accurately portrayed how children like Jodie and her friends would speak to each other. We have sold over 150,000 copies of the book since March this year and have only received three complaints."ven/ak/jg
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