Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Blackguard, coward, git, guttersnipe, hooligan, rat, swine, stoolpigeon and traitor

Oh. dear. The mainstream media's tireless pursuit of inconsequentiality over which to be outraged is getting . . . tiresome. The latest contretemps is over the invocation of Senate Rule 19 by which a Senator is enjoined from impugning the conduct of other senators. An amusing history of Rule 19 is here, The silencing of Elizabeth Warren and an old Senate rule prompted by a fistfight by Derek Hawkins. Of course, it had to be a fistfight between the two South Carolina senators which originated Rule 19.

I leave aside the merits of the case against Warren as too trivial to warrant comment. I also leave aside the worthiness of such rules. Wikipedia has a good summary of the history.
In a Westminster system, this is called unparliamentary language and there are similar rules in other kinds of legislative system. This includes, but is not limited to the suggestion of dishonesty or the use of profanity. The most prohibited case is any suggestion that another member is dishonourable. So, for example, suggesting that another member is lying is forbidden.

Exactly what constitutes unparliamentary language is generally left to the discretion of the Speaker of the House. Part of the speaker's job is to enforce the assembly's debating rules, one of which is that members may not use "unparliamentary" language. That is, their words must not offend the dignity of the assembly. In addition, legislators in some places are protected from prosecution and civil actions by parliamentary immunity which generally stipulates that they cannot be sued or otherwise prosecuted for anything spoken in the legislature. Consequently they are expected to avoid using words or phrases that might be seen as abusing that immunity.

Like other rules that have changed with the times, speakers' rulings on unparliamentary language reflect the tastes of the period.
As Wikipedia notes, most parliamentary systems (and comparable governmental bodies) do have similar rules against the impugning of behavior and motives of other parliamentarians. In Britain, the Mother of all Parliaments, these rules have engendered a tradition of evocative and euphemistic phrases that make the desired imputation without crossing the parliamentary line.

British parliamentary speeches and the corresponding journalistic reporting have always been lively and filled with wit. I particularly like the parliamentary euphemism that a member is "Tired and emotional" - code for saying that they are drunk.

The British Parliament website explicates "unparliamentary language"
Words to which objection has been taken by the Speaker over the years include blackguard, coward, git, guttersnipe, hooligan, rat, swine, stoolpigeon and traitor.
Elizabeth Thompson has produced a list of 106 items that are considered unparliamentary which include:
A parliamentary pugilist and political bully (1875)
A bag of wind (1878)
Scarcely entitled to be called gentlemen (1876)
Honourable only by courtesy (1880)
Inspired by forty-rod whiskey (1881)
Coming into the world by accident (1886)
Insolent and impertinent (1890)
A parliamentary babe and suckling (1890)
A blatherskite (1890)
Talking twaddle (1898)
A cowardly slanderer and a bully (1907)
The political sewer pipe from Carleton County (1917)
Lacking in intelligence (1934)
Hysterical (1943)
A dim-witted saboteur (1956)
Above the truth (1962)
Ass (1970)
Canadian Mussolini (1964)
Cheap political way (1960)
Crook (1971)
Devoid of honour (1960)
Does not have a spine (1971)
Evil genius (1962)
Fabricated a statement (1961)
Idiot (1962)
Ignoramus (1961)
Joker in this House (1960)
Kangaroo court (1960)
Nazi (1962)
Pompous Ass (1967)
Scurrilous (1961)
Sick animal (1966)
Small and cheap (1960)
Trained seal (1961)
On the other hand, these pass muster:
Momentary mental relapse (1960)
Mouthpiece (1974)
Stinker (1969)
Stupid (1964))
The pig has nothing left but a squeak (1977)
Worst president of the Privy Council (1976)
In generally civil Canada, you may not, in Parliament, refer to one's opponent as:
Pompous Ass
In Wales, Member of the Assembly may not be referred to as:
Bumbling idiot
Political vermin
Australia, a country yet mostly unsullied by the cult of political correctness, has some of the more candid parliamentary exchanges.
C. THEOPHANOUS: In the Age of 27 April he states: The Victorian Treasury is predicting that Australia’s economic growth will pull strongly ahead of Victoria’s in 1994-95…The growth rates predicted by this statement show that Victoria will lag behind Australia for the next three years.

Hon. Bill Forwood: Tell us why!

Hon. T. C. THEOPHANOUS: Because of your policies.

Hon. Bill Forwood: You are a fool!

Hon. T. C. THEOPHANOUS: And you are a dickhead!
Legislative Assembly of Victoria, 1991-03-12


The Hon. B. J. Unsworth: The only one who knows anything about bestiality around here is the Hon. F. M. MacDiarmid.
Legislative Council of New South Wales, 1984-11-01


Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question is, That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would preclude consideration forthwith of General Business Notice of Motion No. 1 standing in the name of the honourable member for South Coast. Those in favour—

Miss Machin: This will do you a lot of good at home, won’t it, Terry?

Mr Sheahan: You’re a real little bitch, I tell you. I’ll deal with you later.
Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, 1987-05-29


Mr WRAN: All the honourable member for Sturt, who is attempting to interject, is concerned about is growing opium poppies, and from the look of him sometimes it seems he has tried a few samples.
Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, 1977-11-22


The Opposition will oppose lotto on the grounds that the Treasurer and the Minister for Sport and Recreation and Minister for Tourism has sold out the sporting people of this State and taken money away from them. It will be ploughed back into the Consolidated Revenue Fund to finance the ratbag activities of the Minister for Consumer Affairs.

Mr Einfeld: The member, in his customary style, is offensive, annoying and irritating. I do not take objection to the annoyance or the irritation, but I do take objection to the use of words which I find offensive and I ask him to withdraw them.

Mr Punch: The description fits you like a glove.

Mr ACTING SPEAKER (Mr O’Connell): Order! The Minister has taken offence at what the honourable member for Young has said. I ask the honourable member for Young not to be upset by interjections and I ask him further to withdraw the word ratbag in regard to the Minister.

Mr FREUDENSTEIN: I did not call the Minister a ratbag. I said that he engaged in ratbag activities.
Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, 1990-09-05


Mr I.W. SMITH: I am not sure whether you look like the rotten hollow log or something that is found underneath it when it has rolled over!

[Honourable members interjecting.]

The SPEAKER: Order!

Mr Micallef: What is the difference between you and a bucket of shit?

The SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member has used an unparliamentary expression. I ask him to withdraw.

Mr MICALLEF (Springvale): I withdraw ‘bucket’.

The SPEAKER: Order! An unqualified withdrawal please!
Legislative Assembly of Victoria, 1994-10-11


Mr HARTCHER: The Premier will use any excuse and seek any opportunity for political self-promotion, even at the cost of the interests of the State or Australia. He is a total harlot.

Mr Debus: Point of order.

Mr HARTCHER: You are going to take a point of order on that, when the words used by the Premier every day in question time are a total distortion of everything?

Mr Debus: The words “total harlot” are beyond the parliamentary and indeed the ethical pale, and I ask that they be withdrawn.

Mr DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! I ask that those words be withdrawn.

Mr HARTCHER: I withdraw the term “harlot” and I say “political prostitute”.
Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, 2002-11-21
It is a deep well is unparliamentary language. I prefer the American system of governance over the British Parliamentary system but, given that a disproportionate number of British Parliamentarians have a classical education and/or were members of the Oxford Union (or equivalent), it has to be acknowledged that the give-and-take in Parliament is much more lively and entertaining. Especially on those occasions when members are tired and emotional.

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