Peckniffian cant banned in Parliament

The UK press has been alive with talk of the Prime Minister calling Ed Balls, the Labour Shadow Chancellor, a "muttering idiot" during a session of Parliament. The the Speaker of the House forced him to withdraw the remark. In The Observer, Gaby Hinsliff and Quentin Letts' debate includes some other language prohibited in Parliament, including my favourite: "Pecksniffian cant."

QL Consult Erskine May, the parliamentary rule book, and "idiot" is not, oddly enough, a banned term (though it is now, clearly). Insults that are banned include "hypocrite", "blackguard" and "Pecksniffian cant", although only Jacob Rees-Mogg would use that last one these days. The thing these insults have in common is that they are the opposite of dialectic. They do not take on the argument. Clearly that is not what we want in our political discourse because it is a short step from that to the sort of punch-ups they have in the South Korean parliament. Boy, I'd love to be a South Korean sketchwriter.

And here's more, Simon Hoggart's Parliamentary sketch:

There are also some words and phrases that haven't been heard in quite a while. "The hon gent is an impertinent puppy!" would earn a rebuke, and a dismissal if not quickly followed by a withdrawal. You cannot accuse anyone of "Pecksniffian cant", or "ruffianism". Try saying "the minister is behaving like an impudent jackass", and you'll be out on your ear lickety split. "Pharisee", "stool-pigeon", "bletherer", "guttersnipe", "cad" and "swine" would also horrify the Speaker and the clerks. And don't even think of saying "the hon member has been returned by the refuse of a large constituency".

(Image: Seth_Pecksniff_85, "A photograph of an engraving in The Writings of Charles Dickens," Wikimedia Commons)


    1.  Correct.  Read it in context; one may not accuse another of “ruffianism” or “pecksniffian cant”.

    1. Yeah, I was just thinking that. How is “Pecksniffian cant” not an eerily precise description of Thatcherism? And how, if at all, is it an inaccurate description of both the Tory and New Labor politicians who suck up to Rupert Murdoch? In the west, at least, Pecksniffian cant is all that you can find in Murdoch’s press and in his “news” broadcasts.

      The next thing you’ll tell me is that it’s rude and inappropriate to refer to various US congressmen and ‘women as Randroids or as Redneckistani Taliban. Political correctness, I call it, up with which we shall not put.

    1.  And today you have Trudeau the younger getting in hot water for swearing in Parliament twice. Though to be fair, I’d have trouble keeping a civil tongue were I presented with Peter Kent myself.

  1. My favourite Parliamentary rule is that one member is allowed to call another a chicken or a sheep but not a pig…

  2. The language of the Travelers is sometimes referred to as Cant – and sometimes it’s called Gammon. TBH I haven’t read the article thoroughly enough to know when the word ‘cant’ was banned, but you could argue that if you use ‘cant’ as an abusive epithet you are getting into intolerant territory.
    ‘Pikey’ has recently become formally recognised as a racially abusive word in UK workplaces.

    1. “Traveler” is the new politically correct epithet for the people we used to call “Gypsies” on the mid-atlantic coast of the USA.  It’s a bit more accurate since it captures the essential character of a roaming family, whom everyone suspects of dubious morals and thievery, but who almost certainly have no connection to Egypt, and probably aren’t even Rom.  Ours speak American and do not mix with the Mexican migrant workers.

      1. This is the perfect time to bring up my absolute favorite crime for which one could be transported to Australia: Impersonating an Egyptian. (That is, pretending to be a Gypsy so one could tell fortunes and other things that only Gypsies were allowed to do.)

      2. To be fair “Gypsy” is what they called themselves; and the fact that they hail from Rajasthan rather than Egypt is relatively recent discovery based on comparative linguistics.

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