Multimillionaire and Tory Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell, had a strop with some policemen last week because they wouldn't let him cycle through the main gates of Downing Street. He allegedly called them "plebs", swore a lot and started huffing and puffing about how they don't run the country, presumably assuming he does.
Obviously that doesn't look good – literally no one likes an elitist, condescending millionaire-politician – but is the media backlash really warranted? Does anyone really care? A lot of columnists from highly respected newspapers don't seem to think so, and, besides Labour supporters, nobody else seems particularly fussed or shocked that an old, rich man said an old word used by rich people.
So, amongst all the controversy, we went out to gauge public opinion: London, would you be offended if I called you a pleb?
Shunai, 34: Yeah man, because pleb is not a good word. I call someone a pleb if they're being a fucking idiot, because it means they’re an arsehole. It means you ain’t got no brain, that I don’t like you no more. It basically means you’re rubbish and you mean nothing to me. You’re just a pleb.
It sounds like you do a lot of pleb-calling.
Yeah, we used to say it a lot when I was growing up in east London, but it's gone now. You call someone a "twat" or a "fucking lemon" nowadays. I do like the word, though.
Are you going to start saying it in homage to Andrew Mitchell, do you think?
Ah, no, no, no. I'll be calling people a wanker or a cunt or a twat or a prick. I won't be saying pleb again because of some politician.
Graham, 43: Not particularly, no. This whole Andrew Mitchell story has been totally blown out of proportion, in my opinion.
VICE: What can I call you to offend you?
Oh, there are all sorts of things. Probably something like "dishonest", because it’s quite personal, you know? You'd actually be attacking my character rather than just using a blanket offensive word.
Thanks, I'll remember that for next time.
Leigh-Anne, 23: Well, yeah, if I didn't know you and you came up and shouted "pleb" at me in the street, I might be a little offended. Wouldn't you? I don't think it would bother me too much, though.
VICE: Do you know what it means?
Not really. If someone was to call me that, I'd probably think I'd done something stupid. I suppose it's the same as calling someone an idiot?
Yeah, kind of. What’s the most insulting thing anyone's ever said to you?
I’ve never been called anything that bad, really. I’ve had people say racist things to me, but that’s because they don’t understand my culture.
Or because they're idiots.
Christopher, undisclosed age: I wouldn’t be pleased, no.
Why not? It's just a word.
Yes, but it's the meaning behind it that's offensive. I’m not so sure of what that original meaning is, but I know it’s not pleasant.
What's the most offensive thing anyone's ever said to you?
I generally try to ignore any comments that do come my way. I’ve had the odd remarks about the way I dress but I just ignore it. I'm a painter, so the way I dress is just an extension of that – colourful and eclectic. The insults are normally just a fun bit of banter, though, so I usually just laugh it off.
I'll be here for you when the banter gets too real, Chris.
Alex, 26: No, I really, really wouldn't. It's such an old-fashioned word, and all it means is "common person". I don't see anything particularly offensive about being called a commoner. If anything, it's worse on the person who calls you it. It makes them look snobby and elitist.
Yeah, I think that's the issue Andrew Mitchell's having. What word can I call you to offend you?
Nothing, really – they’re all just words at the end of the day. I suppose something that's actually true could be offensive, though. Like if you called me a know-it-all, because I kind of think I am one, but it's never nice having your suspicions confirmed about that kind of thing.
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