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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”.

2 Responses

  1. unbelievable horsehit from Dale. i’m from a proper part of Essex, worked over most of south Essex, interviewed hundreds if not thousands of people in Essex as a local reporter and my relatives all came from the East End of London – and slapper means one thing and one thing only. It means ‘slag’, ‘slut’, ‘tart’ – a bird who’ll fuck anything and is of general low morals.
    Taking a pic of her her ‘because someone in the carriage suggested it’! What a fucking cop out! It was a shit thing to do, but for Iain thats just normal behaviour.

  2. […] his way out of a hole rather than apologise, he’s more than willing to do so, as I noted last year. This tendency explains his absurd original justification that he was “protecting” […]

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