It's much used phrase with a lineage that goes back to the schoolyard, but as anyone with ears and a marginally sensitive nature can testify, 'sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me' is basically a right load of old cack.
Because words of all sorts - and in particular negative words - are incredibly powerful and have the ability to cause genuine distress.
Having said that, the notion of the pen being mightier than the sword wasn't much help to me that Saturday night in the early 1980s when I was being chased down Great Western Road by various samurai-wielding members of the Maryhill Fleet. (All I had in my possession then was a Ladbrokes pencil and I have to tell you, it was of absolutely no use in the slightest.)
But I digress. Truth is, a skilled exponent of the barbed comment can get under your skin much easier than a gang of pissed-up neds largely because using words as a weapon is a much more deliberate and premeditated tactic than a good kicking could ever be.
And what's more, a slagging - defined in the Urban Dictionary as 'a series of mocking, insulting or critical comments' is a whole lot harder to run away from, since it's usually delivered by someone who's a friend, or at any rate a reasonably intimate associate.
Words are hurtful. We've all used them as weapons, be it in the context of a relationship - to my shame I know I have - within families or, and here is where it starts to get complicated, when we've tried - and failed - to be funny.
Recently my old Naked Radio chum Tam Cowan has been rebuked for some indiscreet- all right, be fair, rather insulting - comments he made about women's football.
Now, as we know, Tam's since recanted, though I doubt he had much choice given that his job was almost certainly down the pan if he hadn't, but was his indisputably disingenuous apology absolutely necessary?
After all, Tam is a comedian - his job is to make people laugh and abuse comedy is hardly a recent or uncommon phenomenon. Think Frankie Boyle, whose entire canon is based on ripping the piss out of everyone, the weaker and less able to defend themselves the better.
Tam's diatribe, if that's what it was - and I'm not convinced it really merits such a description - was surely pretty mild by comparison and ranked pretty low on the offensive scale. (As it also did on the humour scale. Sorry Tam).
Click here to read Catriona Stewart's column - Tam Cowan's cheap shot was beyond a joke
It seems that this story and another one doing the rounds, that Liverpool FC has issued a list of words that should not be used by any of its players in interviews, is a definite sign of the times.
No longer, apparently, can anyone talk about 'manning up', 'being girly' or 'acting like a princess'. Hmm. I'm not sure about that. I mean are any of these phrases truly offensive to women?
One of my favourite expressions from the late-1970s was famously used to describe alleged boxer Joe Bugner, a man whose unwillingness to throw punches led to him being compared to Scottish fighting great Peter Keenan. (Joe, according to Hector Nicol, was Peter's long lost brother - 'No So Keenan Boxing') 'A big girl's blouse' was how Bugner was described, which unless I'm mistaken could only be deemed offensive to Big Joe himself, big girls who wear blouses notwithstanding.
Similarly, that fine expression 'a big Jessie', used exclusively in conjunction with blokes who are scared of their own shadows is, as far as I'm concerned, more an example of rich, descriptive language than 'inappropriate and unacceptable phraseology'.
Now, I could be wrong - I often am - but do we really want to consign classic, traditional and let's face it culturally significant phrases like this to the no longer acceptable bin?
Sure, some words are highly offensive and while still in relatively common usage are no longer as all-pervading as they might have been in the 1970s - anyone remember Eddie Booth in the execrable so- called comedy Love They Neighbour? - and that's clearly a good thing.
But other words and phrases are still funny, descriptive and really quite harmless, especially if they're delivered in a light-hearted manner and without true, intentional malevolence.
And, to be honest, sometimes it doesn't seem to matter too much if the target of the remark is someone whose pomposity, self-importance or irritation factor is way off the scale. I mean, would anyone really care if Jeremy Clarkson was offended or upset by a frank description of his talent, personality or lack thereof? I certainly wouldn't.
There does remain a certain word which is resolutely infra dig in polite company but even that word - and we all know what it is - can be acceptable and funny when used in the right context.
Gough Whitlam, that grand old man of Australian politics, used it in the Canberra parliament while in the process of interrupting an interminable speech by an aged farmer who represented a remote constituency in outback Queensland.
"Do you mind?" said the red-faced old boy, who'd evidently lunched rather well earlier that day. "I'd like to remind you that I am a Country Member."
"Yes," drawled the bold Gough, "we remember that all right."
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