Every generation thought they weren’t going to age into pillocks. They all did

Donald Clarke: Why I'm founding Gammon Pride Day

The term gammon has  been directed towards the sort of blazer-wearing knuckle-brain who disapproves of women in the golf club bar and feels that no Brexit can be hard enough. Photograph: iStock

The term gammon has been directed towards the sort of blazer-wearing knuckle-brain who disapproves of women in the golf club bar and feels that no Brexit can be hard enough. Photograph: iStock

 

I am happy to announce that the DUP have been standing up for me. More than that. The MP for the very constituency in which I grew up has defended the oppressed minority to which I belong. Last week, Emma Little-Pengelly, MP for Belfast South, sternly rebuked those who glibly use the word “gammon” to mean something other than a form of cured pork. “This is a term based on skin colour & age,” she said. “Stereotyping by colour or age is wrong no matter what race, age or community.” Get that woman the Nobel Peace Prize.

A veritable avalanche of Gammon-based snark rapidly engulfed social media. A smaller avalanche (a mudslide?) was generated by people wondering why everyone was suddenly talking about ham.

The term has recently been revived to describe red-faced men deep into middle-age. This was what Ms Little-Pengelly was getting at. (That’s me.) It has, more precisely, been directed towards the sort of blazer-wearing knuckle-brain who disapproves of women in the golf club bar and feels that no Brexit can be hard enough. (That’s not me, I hope.)

The only satisfactory solution to the Europe question is, for such folks, to sever the continent at the Urals and tow it into the South Atlantic. Better still, blast the awful place into an orbit beyond that of Jupiter.

Unwelcome frottage

You know a gammon when you see one. He’s puffing cheeks out and whingeing about “political correctness gone mad”. He declares that feminists are victimising men. He’s been ejected from the bowls club after complaints about unwelcome frottage with the lady treasurer. 

The origins of the word and the source of its revival are in some dispute. But we do know that Charles Dickens used a version of it in Nicholas Nickleby. Confronted with a pompous patriot in full flow, “one gentleman in the rear did not scruple to remark aloud, that, for his purpose, it savoured rather too much of a ‘gammon’ tendency.”

Earlier this week, Ben Davis, writing in the UK’s Independent, claimed responsibility for bringing the word back to prominence. He remembers watching happily middle-aged Tories moped about the TV last June in the aftermath of their disappointing performance at the snap general election. “Whatever happens, hopefully politicians will start listening to young ppl after this,” Ben tweeted. “This Great Wall of gammon has had its way long enough.” Ben claims that the term was then picked up by the left and used liberally to describe a particular class of conservative duffer.

If the word does describe a political type – even one further defined by race and age – then it is surely a stretch to categorise it as discriminatory. Politics thrives on aggressive difference and creative name-calling.

If each side treated the other with total respect then we wouldn’t really have any politics to speak of. Utopia would have arrived and we could devote ourselves to building our version of the Starship Enterprise and exploring new worlds and new civilisations.

Never forget that every generation thought they weren’t going to age into pillocks. And they all did.

Let’s pretend it is just a term for people of a certain gender, age, size and complexion. Let’s pretend it is used merely to describe people whose heads do indeed offer suggestions of that popular meat. It’s nice of the DUP, a party not know for the madness of its political correctness, to stand up on our behalf and resist the pork-based rudeness. But it really isn’t necessary. We’re fine.

Limp-liberal political opinion

There is, perhaps, a little too much age-based abuse around these days. The association of “your Da” with any supposedly limp-liberal political opinion has become a little wearing. Never forget that every generation thought they weren’t going to age into pillocks. And they all did.

For all that, no sane person could regard middle-aged, overfed men as a disadvantaged group in society. That’s the thing about discriminatory language. It doesn’t really have much bite if it’s directed towards a section that occupies the top of the social heap.

In the 1970s there were occasional attempts to equate the word honky with what we now must call the n-word. It didn’t really hold up. One was a highly charged term associated with lynching, job discrimination and everyday racial abuse. “Honky” causes no white man to sincerely bristle with memories of ancient atrocities.

That comparison does, however, kick up a suggestion. Perhaps my “community” should – as African-Americans have done with n-word and homosexuals have done with the q-word – aggressively reclaim “gammon” for our own use. By proudly using it about ourselves we can subvert the intended offense and refashion it into a weapon. Gammon rap will become a thing. Gammon theatre festivals will emerge. Whole shelves in your local library will be filled with Gammon Literature. You know? Books by middle-aged men. 

Oh hang on. That happens anyway.    

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.