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‘Cull this word from the dictionary now’

Please, let this finally be the death of banter

News Desk: There was a point in time when being called a spermologer would not have made you blush. Now sadly expelled from common usage, this colourful word once merely labelled someone a gossip monger and consumer of current affairs and trivia.

Back in the olden days, early practitioners of the tiresome ice bucket challenge would have felt an overwhelming sense of curglaff: that is, the shock felt when plunging into cold water, now presumably cancelled out by inflated publicity and self-regard.

As one word falls into obscurity, destined for a dark corner of a dusty tome in a forgotten library, two more spring up in its place. Hence selfie, simples and bouncebackability. No one said progress was inherently a good thing.

The point is that language is a virile beast. It grows and evolves relentlessly, making obsolete those organs and appendages which, like an appendix, it no longer has a use for. And this is where we come to banter.

The Oxford English Dictionary does not currently conduct an annual cull of words which are no longer desirable or doing their function. If they did, banter would surely be first against the wall and terminated with extreme prejudice.


It has come to befoul our lexicon. The inspiration behind this theoretical act of vocabulary nazism is of course the shameful statement issued by the League Managers’ Association last night to partially defend Malky Mackay following the publication of some offensive text messages exchanged between himself and former colleague Iain Moody at Cardiff. Moody resigned yesterday, while Mackay missed out on a job at Crystal Palace due to the revelations.

Of the six offensive texts revealed by the Daily Mail, Mackay, via the LMA, lays claim to two, which were “with the benefit of hindsight, very regrettable and disrespectful of other cultures”, apparently leaving the sexist and homophobic elements of the conversations squarely at the feet of Moody.

The statement goes on to describe them as “friendly text message banter.” Friendly text message banter. Though the statement does not claim authorship of any exact text messages, it is safe to conclude from the nature of Mackay and the LMA’s half-hearted mea culpa that he might have been responsible for the following witticism, greeting the arrival of Kim Bo-kyung: “Fkn c*****s.” Indeed, on Friday morning the Daily Mail reports this text did come from Mackay’s phone.

Delightful stuff. And remember, it’s just banter. Incidents of this nature highlight when a simple word takes on an insidious function, attempting to disguise as it does statements which can be interpreted as nothing other than downright racist.

It’s a joke, a laugh, the word banter protests, as though the prospect of white men using the word “c****y” and joking about dogs being eaten in reference to a South Korean player has any appreciable level of humour. That is not how comedy works. Football uses the word banter to obscure a myriad of ills. The cultural cornerstone is of course Richard Keys’ defence of his and Andy Gray’s sexism by insisting “it was just banter”, a declaration that launched a thousand Vines, all lampooning the pomposity of a man who tried to mask his demeaning of the opposite sex under the banner of banter. (Incidentally, said Vines are a neat example of how comedy does work).

In January 2012, meanwhile, then Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish exacerbated the club’s inexcusable conduct over the Suarez-Evra affair when describing as a “bit of banter” the decision of thousands of Liverpool fans to boo a black player who had been racially abused by one of their own stars. Again, not funny, for those keeping score.

In football, banter has become an umbrella used to cover up all number of steaming piles of turd. But those at the top of the game are not only to blame for banter’s demonic reach. It has been a grass-roots movement too, a bottom-up revolution.

As the tweet above demonstrates, the use of the word banter may have reached a peak in the 18th century, but it was surely given a fresh lease of life by chief banter merchant Tim Lovejoy, whose brand of forced bonhomie on the Soccer AM sofa made banter mainstream again.

Indeed, one of Lovejoy’s post-Soccer AM initiatives – a now defunct website called ChannelBee – named its forum the ‘Banter Pit’, presumably a noble attempt to collect all the worst kind of people in one place.

The mostly harmless blokey banter of Soccer AM never took on the malicious form seen in Mackay’s texts of course, but that famous orange sofa was likely the conduit through which banter was fully appropriated by football and it duly became the common language in dressing rooms and pubs alike.

Years later and we are forced to contend with uni lad bores professing to be the Archbishop of Banterbury and imploring their vacuous, gibbering disciples to clamber aboard the banter bus. Bantersaurus Rex! The shame is that in early usage, the word banter had an almost noble tinge to it:

But thanks to the LMA we have surely reached banter’s event horizon. There is no longer any context in which its usage can invite anything other than condemnation and ridicule. It is now nothing but a cloak, used to disguise rather more nefarious and unsettling language.

One can only hope the banter bus has reached its final destination.


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