Insults from bygone days.

When I was at secondry school we read a book called The Guardians – by John Christopher – and in it were a family called the Giffords, which we found hillarious. Gifford quickly became the insult of choice in our class. It didn’t really mean anything, but you didn’t want to be called one. Over the course of the term its usage spread throughout our year, despite the fact that no one knew what it meant, and only 30 of us knew where it had come from. The following term saw it spread to the year below, which was funny to overhear, but what we really wanted was for the year above to start using it. Sadly, it never happened. And I never heard anyone older than our year ever use it.

Years earlier, when I first came to Banbury and started at the Grange, it was seen as a massive insult to be told that you had skill (or skills). I to this day have no idea of where it came from, or what it meant. It was quite funny though that a teacher could (and would) tell a child that they had skill in performing something or other, and that the child would think that they were being insulted. I once saw a fellow pupil fall from the logs (a wooden climbing frame) and whilst he lay in a heap crying, and trying to work out which way was up, another pupil ran up to him and told him that he had skills. Which I found, and still do, hilarious. Over the course of the following year though, skill (and skills) slowly evolved into AIDS. And whilst we didn’t know what AIDS was, or that it was actually an acronym, or what an acronym was, we did know that it wasn’t as funny. And it slowly died a death… so to speak.

The reason that I’m mentioning any of this whatsoever is that many years later, which is still now many years ago, I used to listen to the Chris Morris show on Radio 1. It was very odd, dark, fantastically funny, and none of my friends listened to it. Later that year I went to university in Bradford, and no one there had heard it either. So I could use things that I’d heard on the show, and people would think that I was much funnier than I actually was. A few years after that I found myself back in Banbury, a university drop out, with a few friends of convenience but no one I genuinely liked and enjoyed being around. But then I started going out drinking with this one guy from work that I did actually like, we became firm friends, and I started to meet his group of friends (some of whom are still very good friends now, and it’s some 12-13 years later). I would still occasionally try to be funnier than I was, by dropping things into the conversation that I’d heard on that radio show. There was one phrase, one insult, that caught on. But only with one person. Hello Martin. I will sometimes still use it now, but whenever I do people look at me funny because they don’t know what I’m talking about. And actually, it doesn’t really make any sense. About a month ago Martin used it, it was the first time in a very long time that I’d heard him say it, and it really made me laugh. Then, two weeks ago, one of the characters on Skins used it. I couldn’t believe that I’d heard them say it. She couldn’t have, could she? She didn’t really refer to another character as being “as gay as a window” did she? Brilliant. I don’t know how the writers came across it, or why they thought a seventeen year old Bristolian girl would have come across it, but I cannot think of a funnier thing for her to have said… even if no one else got it.

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6 thoughts on “Insults from bygone days.

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  1. One of my mates used the term “gifford” as an insult when we were younger too. This was probably some time around 1994-1995. I’m researching for a best-man’s speech and I was looking to see if that word was something he’d made up (of which there were many insulting terms) or something that was in common use. We were in the Lake District, so quite a way from you by the sounds of it. I wonder if he had read that book too?

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