oiks, yobs, and prats

Three British slurs, widely used on the ITV detective mystery show Midsomer Murders (broadcast since 1997 and still going on), which I’ve been watching on Netflix. As far as I can tell, all three are primarily insults directed at males.

The very brief story, from NOAD2:

oik (also oick); informal, chiefly Brit. an uncouth or obnoxious person. ORIGIN 1930s: of unknown origin.

yobBrit. informal a rude, noisy, and aggressive young man.

pratinformal 1 a person’s buttocks. 2 Brit. an incompetent, stupid, or foolish person; an idiot. ORIGIN mid 16th cent. (sense 1): of unknown origin. Sense 2 dates from the 1960s.

More detail from Green’s Dictionary of Slang:

oik / oick: [orig. school use, a working man, then an unpopular pupil or any member of a rival school] an unpleasant youth, usu. as described by a social superior.

The etymology appears to be onomatopoetic, from oik / hoik ‘spit, to spit’ and oickman ‘laborer, shopkeeper’, also a disparaging term (all attested in school use from 1925). Then in 1933, A.G. Macdonell, England, their England: Those privately edcated oicks are a pretty grisly set of oicks. Grocers’ sons and oicks and what not. And on through 2001 [the newspaper] Indep. on Sun.: What every spotty little oik in Britain can do.

yob / later yobb: [backsl. (for boy)] 1 a boy [first attested in a 1859 slang dictionary]  2 an uncouth, vulgar youth. [1874, J. Greenwood, Wilds of London (1891), Topyob …: the mysterious cognomen of this last-mentioned personage, to my disgust, I afterwards discovered was merely ‘potboy’, disguised in what is known in certain circles as ‘backslang.’ And on through 2005 in the Guardian: Platoons of drunken yobs … run amok in the high street.

prat / also pratt [? echoic of the buttocks hitting a hard surface; subseq. uses are fig. uses of sense 1]: 1 (orig. UK Und.) a buttock, the buttocks [from 1512]  2 a tinder-box  3 the vagina  4 a young woman  5 (US) a hip pocket  6 a general term of abuse; mainly a fool, an idiot [1954, J. Orton, Entertaining Mr. Sloan: Go on, you superannuated old prat!]

There are nuances here. An oik is unpleasant, disreputable, perhaps describable in AmE slang as a hood, but a yob is something stronger, in the neighborhood of hoodlum, tough, or even thug. A prat, meanwhile is just a fool, idiot, or buffoon.

2 Responses to “oiks, yobs, and prats”

  1. chrishansenhome Says:

    There is a biweekly cartoon in Private Eye at the end of the actual text, just under the crossword puzzle (which is always tremendously sexual). It’s called “Yobs”, and features two or three men drinking, threatening fights, and committing petty crimes, all in fun. Occasionally their partners figure in the strip, which is then renamed “Yobettes”.

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