Twit or tw*t? (Warning: explicit – but only for Americans …)

He was allowed to use the word arse last week on the Graham Norton Show, but when Rowan Atkinson (aka Mr. Bean) chose another word synonymous with idiot to finish up his story (see 2:05 in the video above), BBC America roundly expunged it. BLEEP! I’m guessing that when the show aired originally in the UK a few days earlier, the four-letter word didn’t raise a single British eyebrow — let alone set off the censors’ bells. Speakers of American-English: read on at your peril …

Here’s how Wikipedia succinctly explains and illustrates the word that’s relatively benign on one side of the Atlantic but won’t fly in polite company (including on TV) on the other.

“Although sometimes used as a reference to the female genitalia (a usage that predominates for the word in North American English), the word twat is more often used in various other ways:

  • As a derogatory insult, a pejorative meaning a fool, a stronger alternative to the word twit – ‘He can be a complete twat‘ (frequent in British and Commonwealth English, and not unheard of in North America)
  • Informally as a verb meaning to hit someone (a British usage)

“In August 2008, the publisher of a children’s book, My Sister Jodie by Jacqueline Wilson, decided, after receiving three complaints, in future editions of the novel to reprint the word twat as twit so as not to offend readers or their parents.

“In a radio interview on 29 July 2009, the leader of the British Conservative Party, David Cameron, apologised for any offence caused after he used the word twat on live radio during a breakfast radio show interview on Absolute Radio: “The trouble with Twitter, the instantness of it – too many twits might make a twat”. He attempted to play down the incident, and added: “I was doing a radio interview and I’m sure that people will understand that”.

“In his book Filthy English, linguist Peter Silverton asks ‘Can you distinguish an utter twat from a complete prick? I think you can. An utter twat knows not what he or she does. A complete prick does.'”

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