Knob in a red top

On Facebook yesterday, Chris Waigl posted the beginning of this story from the (UK) Independent, dated today:

James May calls Jeremy Clarkson a ‘k**b’ after Top Gear star suspended by BBC

Top Gear presenter James May has defended his co-presenter Jeremy Clarkson following his suspension, by calling his colleague “a k**b” but saying he “quite likes him.”

It took Chris a minute or so to figure out that the asterisked word was knob — British slang for ‘penis’, also usable (like dick and prick) as an insult. She noted that “asterisks of coyness” were kind of counterproductive if you spend ages pondering what the word might be, adding that “p***k would be functionally equivalent to k**b, but takes almost as long to decipher.” She went on:

One thing I noted occasionally glancing at the red-top press in the UK — mostly in the form of Metro or other free crap, was how much more common the asterisking was there, while the style guides of the Guardian, for example, discourage it. The above is from the Indy, but I can’t discern if it wasn’t actually an external ad. Anyhow, one thing the red-tops DON’T discourage is using the offending words in the first place, so [many] more articles contain them — asterisked out — than would in the Guardian. And for the long ones, I frequently had to stop and count asterisks trying to figure out if “bastard” or “bonehead” (yeah, they’d asterisk out nursery-school level insults) would fit.

Another Briticism: red-top press, referring to a kind of tabloid; more on this below. But first a note on asterisking in the tabloid press. As Chris suggests, there’s so much asterisking because the tabloids are using “offensive” vocabulary so extensively, flaunting their “naughtiness” in a way that serious publications like the Guardian never would.

Now on the tabloids, from Wikipedia:

Tabloid journalism is a style of journalism that tends to emphasize topics such as sensational crime stories, astrology, gossip columns about the personal lives of celebrities and sports stars, and junk food news. Such journalism is commonly associated with tabloid sized newspapers like the National Enquirer, Globe, or The Sun and the former News of the World. Not all newspapers associated with such journalism are in tabloid size; for example, the format of Apple Daily is broadsheet, while the style is tabloid. The terms tabloids, supermarket tabloids, gutter press and rag refer to the journalistic approach of such newspapers rather than their size.

… Collectively called the “tabloid press”, tabloid newspapers in Britain tend to be simply and sensationally written, and to give more prominence than broadsheets to celebrities, sports, crime stories and even hoaxes; they also less subtly take a political position (either left-wing or right-wing) on news stories, ridiculing politicians, demanding resignations and predicting election results. The term “red tops” refers to tabloids with red nameplates, such as The Sun, the Daily Star, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Record and the Daily Sport, and distinguishes them from the Daily Express and Daily Mail. Red top newspapers are usually simpler in writing style, dominated by pictures, and directed at the more sensational end of the market.

One Response to “Knob in a red top”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Chris Hansen on Facebook, with his personal assessments of the connotations of this insult vocabulary:

    “Knob” is kind of affectionate. Someone who is a knob is stupid and destructive, but possibly not malicious. A “prick” here is someone who is not only stupid and destructive, but also malicious and even evil.

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