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Taffs revisited

October 6, 2016

There was a story in yesterday’s Times about how Ofcom, the communications regulator, has ruled on the offensiveness of various terms. For example Jock as a term for a Scot is described as “mild language, generally of little concern”. However, Taff is categorised as “potentially offensive”. I was slightly surprised at that. It brought to mind a post I put up here over two years ago. It got little attention at the time so I am re-posting it:

In a recent news story, a man has been charged with racial abuse after shouting at a pair of Welsh bouncers who ejected him from a club, calling them Taffs. I must admit my first thought was that this is plain silly. Taff just doesn’t seem to me a particularly offensive epithet for a Welsh person; and I speak as someone who is half-Welsh himself. It derives from the River Taff, which rises in the Brecon Beacons and flows through Cardiff, and I’d always thought it a reasonably benign, even affectionate term for a Welsh person. There is a song, “Pubcrawl”, by the Irish singer Brendan Shine, which contains the lines: “I was drinking with a Taff/ We was drinking pints of cider/ I said ‘Where are you from?”/ He said ‘I’m from the Ronddha’ / I helped him on his bike/ Oh, you should have seen him wander” – and that’s the sort of word I thought it was, a not unfriendly, rather old-fashioned term that belongs in a comic song rather than a trial about racial abuse. It’s not loaded with the terrible historical associations of terms like yid or nigger.

Or is it? I don’t know. After all, the English did conquer and colonise the Welsh. Maybe that explains why, centuries later, the word Taff, used by an English person of a Welsh person, still has a sting in it. Or were those bouncers just trying it on? Any thoughts on this one welcome.

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  1. Matt Gibson permalink

    In the Channel Islands Jerseymen are known as crapauds. The French for toads. Due to the first syllable this sounds offensive. Although it is taken as light hearted agnomen. Many years ago the Guernsey brewery created a beer mat of a squashed toad in reference to Guernseymen being able to squash Jersyemen. No one asked for this beer mat to be revoked even when it arrived in Jersey pubs. Guernseymen are called donkeys by the crapauds historically thought to be due to laziness. There are other theories as well. Sark men are called rabbits. The most complimentary of the three as legend has it this was down to their breeding capability. I’m sure there are other stories but being from Sark I rather like this one.
    One common factor is that this inter-island banter does not cause offence. And nor should Taff or Jock.

  2. Simon Carter permalink

    I’ve heard Scots refer to themselves as Jocks but not Welsh people using Taff (maybe Donald Houston in Doctor in the House?).
    There is the old nursery rhyme which starts Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief which doesn’t sound too complimentary. It’s probably advisable not to bandy the term around too freely in the valleys.

  3. Barry Rees permalink

    Back in 2013 a Welsh woman was fined £50 for a ‘racist’ insult after calling her father’s mistress an ‘English cow’. I remember commenting at the time, that if the Father’s mistress was English – then calling her an ‘English Cow’ couldn’t be racist. If she was Welsh, then calling her English was likely to really upset her, but I couldn’t see how that was racist either. Calling her a ‘cow’ is what appears to have actually upset her!

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