The Brit List: 10 Stinging British Insults

A lady scrubbing the floor. NOT a scrubber (Copyright Bettmann/Corbis / AP Images)

I should start with a confession. When compiling this list, I assumed it would be a gadabout stone-skim along the top of the English language, each new bounce a perfectly formed (but firmly NSFW) gem. What I hadn’t really taken into account was, when it comes to insulting language, as in so many areas of life, women have it tougher than men.

The problem is, there’s a very specific line of insult which, as far as society at large is concerned, only works when aimed at women, and it’s to do with sexual intent. You can call a man a slut from here to kingdom come, and it won’t be anywhere near as damning as it will be for a woman, even if the man is Hugh Hefner and the woman is… the woman is… (struggles to think of a single woman in the public eye that has never been called a slut)… Oprah?

So, because language reflects society, and this list is about language, it’s pretty sexist in places. I would also advise extreme caution before testing out any of these words on your British friends, although a perfectly placed twat is a very satisfying thing indeed.

Bellend
When it comes to thinking up new insults, the genitals are always a good place to start. This is a universal constant of swearing. Bellend comes from a fine line of penis-related insults which are probably as old as language itself. You can probably work out what it refers to, but what you may not realize is that bellend is actually quite an affectionate term. It’ll get you into a fight if you say it nastily enough, but it generally tends to be used in either affection or exasperation, depending on the situation. Bellend is on a par with the American asshole in terms of being not safe for visiting dignitaries but perfectly fine salty talk among friends.

Twat
Sometimes the words are the same on either side of the Atlantic but their meaning and use is different. Where there are hideously offensive insults derived from the female genitalia, twat is at the milder end of the scale, and as far as the British are concerned, the link between the thing the word is named after and the insult it carries is becoming fuzzier every day. And it’s not an insult that is reserved for girls either. If I’d been to a party, say, and drunk most of the punch, then got a bit fighty, then a bit shouty, then a bit sicky, I would full expect to wake up the following afternoon to a barrage of texts calling me a twat. And in my fulsome apology to the host, I’d be calling myself it too.

Wanker
Less affectionate, and most commonly thrown with some venom. If you’ve seen The Inbetweeners you’ll know this one from Jay’s infamous “bus wankers” moment, and as you’ll have noticed, people don’t really like being called it. The word refers to masturbation, but a wanker is someone whose defining characteristic is that they masturbate. They are therefore alone, obsessive, and probably not too hygienic. Even the most enlightened Sex-Ed teacher would balk at being called a wanker.

Tosser
On the other, uh, hand, being a tosser is somehow a little bit more acceptable, despite the two words having exactly the same meaning.

Dickhead
A glorious catch-all term of abuse (slightly less friendly than bellend), aimed at any man, woman and child from any ethnic background and of any sexual persuasion. And hipsters in particular, as this song proves:

Arsehole
As distinct from the American asshole. There’s just something a little more grotesque about the elongated arr at the beginning, that makes the word somehow penetrative and all the more redolent of waste products. And so if you’re an asshole, you’re provocative and worthless and probably an idiot, but you can take comfort, should that word be thrown your way: at least no one thinks you’re an arsehole.

Minger
A recent addition to the canon, and a rather grand one. At first, minger simply referred to ugly people. As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there’s not a human born who won’t have been called a minger at some point or other, even David Beckham (although probably not very often). However, the word also means disgusting, so yes, you can be David Beckham, you can be admired for your looks from here to way over there, but if you’re eating yesterday’s takeout from the garbage with your fingers, you’re a minger.

Munter
However, if you’re a munter, you’re definitely ugly. Beckham may be face down in the bin while you elegantly sip your soup, pinky aloft, but if you’re not as attractive as he is (and frankly very few of us are) you’re the munter in this scenario. The good news is he’s still the minger. And as a bonus word, what he’s doing is minging.

Scrubber
And here’s where things get unpleasant for the girls. Scrubber is an old term for a prostitute, and as you may already know, when seeking to insult a woman, the easiest thing to do is suggest she is freely available for sex, if the money is right. It really seems to get on their nerves. There’s been a certain amount of post-feminist clawback on terms like this (see also: slapper), and you’ll now hear women throwing it about with carefree abandon. But as with all reclaimed insults, it’s all about who says it to whom, and what their intentions are.

Slag
Again, to be thrown at the woman who stole your man, but not at the man who went off with that woman. Although, to be fair, he’s clearly almost every other word on this list, even the slightly affectionate ones. Slag does get used in other contexts nowadays, mind. As in the Smiths song ‘Paint A Vulgar Picture’ where the deliberately non-gender-specific Morrissey describes a record company goldrush after the death of a star: “the sycophantic slags all say, ‘I knew him first and I knew him well’”

Not to be confused with: slag off or slagging off, which refers to talking trash about someone behind their back.

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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