Why I’m found­ing Gam­mon Pride Day

The Irish Times - - Friday Life Film & Music - Don­ald Clarke

Iam happy to an­nounce that the DUP has been stand­ing up for me. More than that. The MP for the very con­stituency in which I grew up has de­fended the op­pressed mi­nor­ity to which I be­long. Last week, Emma Lit­tle-Pen­gelly, MP for Belfast South, sternly re­buked those who glibly use the word “gam­mon” to mean some­thing other than a form of cured pork. “This is a term based on skin colour & age,” she said. “Stereo­typ­ing by colour or age is wrong no mat­ter what race, age or com­mu­nity.” Get that woman the No­bel Peace Prize.

A ver­i­ta­ble avalanche of gam­mon-based snark rapidly en­gulfed so­cial me­dia. A smaller avalanche (a mud­slide?) was gen­er­ated by peo­ple won­der­ing why ev­ery­one was sud­denly talk­ing about ham.

The term has re­cently been re­vived to de­scribe red-faced men deep into mid­dle-age. This was what Ms Lit­tle-Pen­gelly was get­ting at. (That’s me.) It has, more pre­cisely, been di­rected to­wards the sort of blazer-wear­ing knuckle-brain who dis­ap­proves of women in the golf club bar and feels that no Brexit can be hard enough. (That’s not me, I hope.)

For such folks, the only sat­is­fac­tory so­lu­tion to the Europe ques­tion is to sever the con­ti­nent at the Urals and tow it into the South At­lantic. Bet­ter still, blast the aw­ful place into an or­bit beyond that of Jupiter.

PC gone mad

You know a gam­mon when you see one. He’s puff­ing cheeks out and whinge­ing about “po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness gone mad”. He de­clares that fem­i­nists are vic­tim­is­ing men. He’s been ejected from the bowls club af­ter com­plaints about un­wel­come frot­tage with the lady trea­surer.

The ori­gins of the word and the source of its re­vival are in some dis­pute. But we do know that Charles Dick­ens used a ver­sion of it in Ni­cholas Nick­leby. Con­fronted with a pompous pa­triot in full flow, “one gen­tle­man in the rear did not scru­ple to re­mark aloud, that, for his pur­pose, it savoured rather too much of a ‘gam­mon’ ten­dency.”

Ear­lier this week Ben Davis, writ­ing in the UK’s In­de­pen­dent, claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for bring­ing the word back to promi­nence. He re­mem­bers watch­ing hap­pily mid­dle-aged Tories mope about the TV last June in the af­ter­math of their dis­ap­point­ing per­for­mance at the snap gen­eral elec­tion. “What­ever hap­pens, hope­fully politi­cians will start lis­ten­ing to young ppl af­ter this,” Davis tweeted. “This Great Wall of gam­mon has had its way long enough”. Davis claims that the term was then picked up by the left and used lib­er­ally to de­scribe a par­tic­u­lar class of con­ser­va­tive duf­fer.

If the word does de­scribe a po­lit­i­cal type – even one fur­ther de­fined by race and age – then it is surely a stretch to cat­e­gorise it as dis­crim­i­na­tory. Pol­i­tics thrives on ag­gres­sive difference and cre­ative name-calling.

If each side treated the other with to­tal re­spect, we wouldn’t re­ally have any pol­i­tics to speak of. Utopia would have arrived and we could de­vote our­selves to build­ing our ver­sion of the Star­ship

En­ter­prise and ex­plor­ing new worlds and new civil­i­sa­tions.

Let’s pre­tend it is just a term for peo­ple of a cer­tain gen­der, age, size and com­plex­ion. Let’s pre­tend it is used merely to de­scribe peo­ple whose heads do in­deed of­fer sug­ges­tions of that pop­u­lar meat. It’s nice of the DUP, a party not know for the mad­ness of its po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, to stand up on our be­half and re­sist the pork-based rude­ness. But it re­ally isn’t nec­es­sary. We’re fine.

Limp-lib­eral po­lit­i­cal opin­ion

There is, per­haps, a lit­tle too much age-based abuse around these days. The as­so­ci­a­tion of “your da” with any sup­pos­edly limp-lib­eral po­lit­i­cal opin­ion has be­come a lit­tle wear­ing. Never forget that ev­ery gen­er­a­tion thought they weren’t go­ing to age into pil­locks. And they all did.

For all that, no sane per­son could re­gard mid­dle-aged, overfed men as a dis­ad­van­taged group in so­ci­ety. That’s the thing about dis­crim­i­na­tory lan­guage. It doesn’t re­ally have much bite if it’s di­rected to­wards a sec­tion that oc­cu­pies the top of the so­cial heap.

In the 1970s, there were oc­ca­sional at­tempts to equate the word “honky” with what we now must call the N-word. It didn’t re­ally hold up. One was a highly charged term as­so­ci­ated with lynch­ing, job dis­crim­i­na­tion and ev­ery­day racial abuse. “Honky” causes no white man to sin­cerely bris­tle with mem­o­ries of an­cient atroc­i­ties.

That com­par­i­son does, how­ever, kick up a sug­ges­tion. Per­haps my “com­mu­nity” should – as African-Amer­i­cans have done with N-word and ho­mo­sex­u­als have done with the Q-word – ag­gres­sively re­claim “gam­mon” for our own use. By proudly us­ing it about our­selves we can sub­vert the in­tended of­fence and re­fash­ion it into a weapon. Gam­mon rap will be­come a thing. Gam­mon the­atre fes­ti­vals will emerge. Whole shelves in your lo­cal li­brary will be filled with Gam­mon Lit­er­a­ture. You know? Books by mid­dleaged men.

Oh hang on. That hap­pens any­way.

‘‘ There is, per­haps, a lit­tle too much age-based abuse around these days. The as­so­ci­a­tion of ‘your da’ with any sup­pos­edly limp-lib­eral po­lit­i­cal opin­ion has be­come a lit­tle wear­ing

PHO­TO­GRAPH: NIALL CAR­SON/PA

Emma Lit­tle-Pen­gelly: aghast at pork-based rude­ness.

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