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 Aldi in Australia has today withdrawn from sale Roald Dahl’s poems for children Revolting Rhymes following a censorious campaign by moral enthusiasts on Facebook.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


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