Response to Iain Dale: Sexualised Insults Against Women Can Never Be A Social Norm

A story from Iain Dale:

Just after the train left London Bridge a drunken woman got on my carriage and asked me to move the bag off the seat next to me. I asked her politely to sit in the seat opposite as I had no wish to sit next to a drunk in case she puked on me. An entirely reasonable thing to do in the circumstances. She then continued to act in a drunken manner, albeit not so legless that she wasn’t aware what she was doing. I started tweeting about the experience. Again, she then tried to sit next to me. I’m afraid I told her in no uncertain terms to ‘piss off’. She went back to the other seat. Someone then said: “Take a picture of her”. And this is where it started. Perhaps unwisely I did so and posted the picture on twitter along with the comment that I found her to be a “disgusting slapper”.

…Where I come from in Essex it’s not a word which by definition means a woman of loose sexual morals. Indeed it can mean that, but most people I know also use it in a different sense too. According to the Oxford English Dictionary its roots lie in the East End and derive from the Yiddish word Shlepper. According to the OED it means unkempt, scruffy person; gossipy, dowdy. And anyone looking at the picture would have to agree that she confirmed to that description. I pointed this out but my detractors preferred the definition from the Urban Dictionary (whatever that is) which equates it to slut and slag. Clearly the Oxford English Dictionary isn’t good enough for them. It’s a word I use quite a lot in various contexts. I even greeted a male MP with the phrase “hello you old slapper”, the other day.

I have full on-line access to the OED through my local public library, so I took a look for myself. Dale’s use of the OED here is self-serving, selective, and distorted.

The OED lists four definitions: the first three are (1) “a large thing or object” (Northamptsonshire dialect); (2) “one who slaps”; and (3) “an implement used for slapping with”. Sense 1 is applied “frequently to over-grown females” (based on an 1854 source), but this doesn’t apply to Dale’s usage, and so we turn turn to the fourth definition, which was added to the OED as a “draft definition” in 2002:

Brit. slang (derogatory). A promiscuous woman. Freq. in old slapper.

The first citation for this meaning comes from the Guardian in 1988 (although in that quote the exact meaning is unclear), and the second is taken from the 1990 Bloomsbury Dictionary of Contemporary Slang:

Slapper in British, a prostitute or slut. This working class term from East London and Essex is probably a corruption of shlepper or schlepper, a word of Yiddish origin, one of whose meanings is a slovenly or immoral woman.

However, the OED itself is not sure about the Bloomsbury Dictionary‘s claim:

See quot… for a postulated connection with Yiddish schlepper ‘unkempt, scruffy person; gossipy, dowdy woman’; however there is some gap in sense.

In other words, the OED does not endorse the Yiddish etymology, and there is no history of the word being used in a disapproving away that is not also sexualised. Those who went to the Urban Dictionary were not misled.

Perhaps the above is worth bearing in mind the next time Dale reports on something; case in point here.

Footnote: The Bloomsbury Dictionary of Contemporary Slang is by Tony Thorne, who is also the author of The 100 Words that Make the English. In this 2009 book, he mentions “slapper” as part of his discussion of “slag”, and he suggests that the word “may be of Irish or Yiddish origin”.

Nadine Dorries’ Sex Education Bill “Removed from Effective Orders”

From the Guardianyesterday:

Fridays are the day when private members’ bills are heard in the House of Commons and bills not sponsored by the government have a chance of becoming law. Today… Tory MP Nadine Dorries’s sex education (required content) bill is receiving its second reading.

Dorries’s bill proposes that girls aged between 13 and 16 are given sex education that includes information and advice on “the benefits of abstinence from sexual activity”.


Nadine Dorries’s sex education bill has been removed from today’s order paper – meaning it will not now be debated today, the Commons information office have confirmed to me.

It may be debated another day, but for now it has been “removed from effective orders”, a spokeswoman told me.

…The bill is likely to have been withdrawn by Dorries herself. “No one would be able to remove a private members’ bill without the permission of a member.”

…No one at Dorries’s office is yet able to explain why she has withdrawn the bill.

…My colleague Jessica Shepherd just got through to Dorries – but the MP said she “didn’t have time to talk”.

At least Shepherd got a civil response; according to the Huffington Post,

The bill was dropped from the order of business list for parliament on Friday, but Dorries’ office insisted the bill had not been withdrawn permanently.

“As the bill was so low down on the order paper, Nadine decided not to have hundreds of copies of the bill printed to save costs.”

Dorries herself refused to comment, hanging up the phone when Huffington Post UK attempted to contact her.

However, Andy McSmith at Independent Diary eventually managed to secure a quote:

She tells me: “The Bill is still live, but there was more chance of being struck by a meteor than getting it debated, so we told the Commons office not to bother printing a hard copy. What I didn’t realise was that if you don’t order it to be printed, it automatically comes off the agenda.

“Of course I wouldn’t withdraw it … a lot of people had paid train fares to come and protest. It would have been churlish.”

Dorries has made a few uninformative comments about the matter on her newly-revived Twitter feed, although she hasn’t posted anything to her blog (she announced early in December that “I will very shortly be closing my blog down and using wider outlets for comment”, although she has made made a few postings since).

The Bill could perhaps have avoided provoking a hostile response had the language been a bit different and had it been proposed by someone other than Dorries. As I wrote in May,  it seems sensible that in teaching young people how to navigate the sexual world, educators ought to include advice on how to resist media messages and peer pressure, and perhaps to raise awareness of saying no as an option. The special focus on girls can also be defended, given that biology means that girls suffer disproportionately when things go wrong, and that girls are more likely to have to deal with pressurizing or unwelcome requests for sex. It should be noted that the Bill does not commend the “abstinence only” position, along lines seen in parts of the USA and parts of Africa.

However, Dorries’ record of misrepresentation on a number of matters makes it very difficult to accept that anything she does is in good faith. Speaking on the Vanessa Show on 16 May, Dorries stated that she didn’t like the word “abstinence” in the Bill, but that she had been obliged to use it in Parliament as a piece of “legalese”. This seemed to me rather odd: what “legalese” requirement would this be? And why didn’t she make clear what expression she would have preferred instead? Further, what educational materials are there on “the benefits of abstinence”, besides those published by conservative Christian educators? (It should be remembered here that in 2010 Dorries misrepresented a Christian group opposing abortion as “neither pro-life nor pro-choice”) And if she only wants extra information to be provided, why did her pitch for the Bill at its First Reading include factually-inaccurate attacks on sex education?

I personally wouldn’t have gone along to a protest against the Bill (and some of the attacks, such as Chris Bryant’s “daftest piece of legislation” comment, have been excessive), but given that Dorries receives support and talking-points from conservative Christian groups, it is reasonable to be concerned about what kind of outcome Dorries’ Bill is strategically working towards.