Hurricane Bawbag: what the Scottish papers don’t say

#scotstorm was no match for #hurricanebawbag

Scotland is a country overburdened with weather. So it’s not surprising that its people have developed a high tolerance threshold towards rain, wind, hail, more rain, snow, ice and even more rain. When all of these things blew in at once, you might reasonably have expected the mood to be dominated by churning seas and falling trees, or the inconvenience of keeping the children off school. Instead, the Scots raised the bar again and came up with the terrific hashtag #hurricanebawbag on Twitter (“bawbag” being, for those who don’t know, a colloquial term for the scrotal sack that registers about 2.5 on the Scottish sweary-word scale).

True, it’s one of those jokes that rapidly goes off the boil after about an hour, but it’s still a fantastically cathartic, defiant response to natural adversity. Within an hour the twitterverse was swamped with Hurricane Bawbag references, even if 90% of them were classic metatweets about how hilarious it was to see Hurricane Bawbag trending on Twitter.

Yet there was one place where #hurricanebawbag was mainly absent: the mainstream Scottish media (with the exception of STV, who cannily exploited it on their entertainment website). The main news services plodded on with the #scotstorm tag long after Bawbag had knocked it out of the park, like a prudish schoolmaster pretending not to read the limericks on the playground wall. And you can bet your cojones that there will be a collective agreement by most of them in tomorrow’s editions not to acknowledge the latest great Scottish contribution to the English language. They would argue, no doubt, that it’s wrong to joke about something that’s causing damage, inconvenience and potentially death. But really, it boils down to the ingrained fear that newspapers still have of alienating a certain section of the readership and their quivering green pens, however much everyone else might be entertained.

I’ve always been a little puzzled by this rigid censoriousness when it comes to the earthier words of the language. We debate long and loud whether Jeremy Clarkson’s comments about shooting strikers are acceptable, or what comedians should say about the disabled, and spare no detail of the offending material. We almost relish recounting the gorier aspects of a good murder. Yet as soon as a bunch of people begin hurling mild sexual expletives at the weather, we button up faster than an adulterous husband whose wife has got the afternoon off work. I still remember the Scottish front-page story about Ron Atkinson’s sacking for racism which starred out the “f-word” but kept the “n-word” – the one that cost him his job – in.

It’s hard to know who could rightly claim to be offended by Hurricane Bawbag, though I’m sure the Wee Free faction on Lewis Community Council will give it their best shot. But it seems like a missed opportunity to celebrate the kind of spontaneous, defiant creativity for which the Scots are famous (albeit chiefly amongst ourselves). The censorious consensus seems like a hangover from the 1950s, an echo of the “think of the children” ethos that gave licence to so much of the hypocrisy of that era. We report about war, disease, violent crime, electoral fraud, payday loan sharks and Michael Winner on a daily basis. If it were really true that dispensing mild genital insults on the internet was the worst thing people ever did to each other, the world would be an immeasurably more civilised place than it is. In such austere and dismal times as these, we should cherish the spirit that blew life into Hurricane Bawbag.

3 comments

  1. […] Shortly afterwords Omg Trampoline hit the web – and immediately went viral. We can now see pages on Wikipedia and Facebook with the same title and Gordon Darroch has written a fine piece on the Scottish sense of humour in his blog. […]

  2. Well argued, but I think that the mainstream media was right to dodge the bawbag. I know it would have given us all a giggle to see John Mackay and Jackie Bird saying it on telly, but I think it’s important that there’s a difference between the formal, authoritarian language of news and the way most of us speak most of the time. Of course we all know all the words, but we know when we can use them and when we can’t.

    • Point taken, but I still find it odd that we media folk handle offensive and shocking material on a daily basis, yet dive for cover when a modest expletive rears its head. News should be accessible rather than authoritarian.

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