Revolting Rhymes

News from the language frontier. Aldi in Australia has today withdrawn from sale Roald Dahl’s poems for children Revolting Rhymes following a censorious campaign by moral enthusiasts on Facebook. This is the offending passage:

Poor Cindy’s heart was torn to shreds. My Prince! she thought. He chops off heads!
How could I marry anyone
who does that sort of thing for fun?
The Prince cried, ‘Who’s this dirty slut? 

Off with her nut! Off with her nut!’

The word slut in this passage is the term identified as justification for this censorship. A spokeswoman for Aldi said that they took very seriously such “concerned customers”. Dahl, in these brilliant comic rhymes, recasts several famous Brothers Grimm tales. For example Red Riding Hood shoots the wolf after producing a pistol from her knickers then skins his hide for a suitcase. In Cinderella the prince is a murderous fanatic who removes the heads of the two sisters and turns on Cinders herself, who in this version shows no desire to yearn for a rich husband to liberate her from drudgery. The word slut comes from the mouth of this revolting royal psychopath. This fact would be clear to any child reader.

In Middle English slatten means sloppiness (particularly of the domestic variety) and is the origin of the word slut. Dahl uses it in this correct sense as our heroine is covered in cinders at the time. It evolved recently into a synonym for slag (meaning sexually promiscuous) and made an entry into the OED with that meaning in 2004.

Dahl wrote the poem in 1982. If only he was still alive to write about moralising bandwagons on social media and their tales of the expected.

Edward Bindloss
28th August 2014


Anti-rape nail polish

An enterprising team of all-male scientists from North California State University has invented nail polish designed to change colour when you discretely place your finger into a drink that has been laced with a date-rape drug. It recognises, they state, amongst other drugs Rohipnol, GHB and Xanex. They claim they are “the first fashion company empowering women to prevent sexual assault

In that they are wrong. In 2011 a lip gloss was made, also in the USA, which could detect GHB and ketamine; it was called, inappropriately, “2 love my lips“. In 2009 a chemist from Tel Aviv invented a drinking straw that changed colour on contact with these drugs. Neither of the products has had any commercial success.

The most common type of date rape drug is, of course, alcohol. Spiking alcoholic drinks with double or triple shots will be undetectable by even the most enthusiastic drink-dunking of the finger painted with the new polish. In my experience (for what it’s worth) as a rape and serious sex offences prosecutor of over a hundred cases, I have done only one drugged rape trial. The vast majority of rapists I know use alcohol to induce the state they require. These anti-rape manicures will, I suspect, go the same way as the lip gloss and the straws.

Perhaps a university could instead help invent a culture where men take responsibility for their sexual behaviour rather than one which requires women to stop them.

Edward Bindloss
27th August 2014

Absurdism, Books, Film

I will spit on your graves

Mood indigo released in cinemas this week, starring Audrey Tautou, has had a mixed reception. It is an adaptation of Boris Vian’s 1947 novel, L’écume des jours. The British critics have not been kind about the director Michael Gast’s images of visual whimsy, but at least no one has died. Unlike Vian himself who was killed by his reaction to a film adaptation of another of his novels, J’irai cracher sur vos tombes 1946 (I will spit on your graves). In a preview screening in a Paris cinema in 1959 he died of a heart attack mid protest; mood black. Continue reading