Friday, 20 December 2013

a criminal word?
Should calling a person “fat” be a criminal offence? This was the topic today on Radio Scotland Call Kay. Some thought yes, some thought no. Unsurprisingly.
What was a surprise was that no-one (so far as I heard) considered how such a crime would be formulated in law and how it would be enforced. Joe tells Mary in their kitchen that she is a fat slag. Does Mary want to put Joe in jail, or lay a hefty fine on him? Where are the witnesses? Who pays the costs of the prosecution?
If calling someone “fat” was a criminal offence, it would take only a moment to find another word to use. Will “chubby”, which can be used with affection or dislike, need another law? How about “tubby”, “flabby”, “adipose” … there is no end to the choice of words available to be unpleasant to/about another person.
And this is the thing. The people who want calling a person “fat” to be a criminal offence are really trying to make it a crime to be nasty. But being nasty. though possibly not very nice, hardly ranks as a crime. If you try to make it into a crime, you’ll probably fail to find a form of words that covers all the possible ways in which one human can be nasty to another human using only the weapon of speech. For the nastiness lies in the intention and attitude, not in the actual words. You could call your enemy a “supremely good person”, and in the right situation, using the right tone of voice, it would be an insult.
Do we really want to live in a world where no-one is ever nasty about another person? No more cartoons, no more edgy comedy, no more honest film/book reviews. No more unthinking off-the-cuff comment. Only cautious assessment of possible witnesses before saying a word.
If a person is so hurt at being called fat that they want to make it a crime, I suspect them of gross self-importance.

Perhaps self-importance could be made a criminal offence?