Anthem anathema

My letter in the Irish Times today. Spelling mistakes all mine, unfortunately.

Sir, – John B Reid seems to be labouring under the mistaken impression that the Irish rugby team is the national team of the Republic of Ireland. If this were the case, then it would be only proper for Amhrán na bFiann to be played at all matches, irrespective of location. But it is not.
As with many other sports, rugby is organised on an all-Ireland basis and the Irish team is not just the team of the Republic, nor even of Irish nationalists, but of the island of Ireland as a whole. Ambiguity between the island and the State is a constant cause of controversy, but the IRFU has correctly recognised that Irish rugby draws support from all traditions on the island.
The current policy that Ireland’s Call be played at away matches is entirely proper, as it reflects the cross-jurisdictional nature of the sport and does not favour one jurisdiction over another. To play the anthem of the Republic in addition at away games would reintroduce politics into a sport that has made a virtue of remaining above the constitutional question.
Amhrán na bFiann is played at home games in the Republic in honour of the State. The only inconsistency in this policy is that no State anthem is played in Belfast, which implies that games in Ravenhill are not “home” games. The honourable solution to this inequity is to play Danny Boy at Ravenhill in the same capacity that Amhrán na bFiann is played in Lansdowne Road’s Aviva Stadium.
Whether or not one finds Ireland’s Call sufficiently rousing, it performs a vital function in keeping divisive politics out of Irish sport. – Yours, etc,
Dublin 14

The moment of quickening

Patsy McGarry has an interesting article in the Irish Times on the surprisingly fluid nature of the Catholic Church’s stance on abortion:

… some of the church’s greatest teachers and saints believed no homicide was involved if abortion took place before the foetus was infused with a soul, known as “ensoulment”. This was believed to occur at “quickening”, when the mother detected the child move for the first time in her womb. In 1591, Pope Gregory XIV determined it at 166 days of pregnancy, almost 24 weeks.

St Thomas Aquinas (died 1274) held “the vegetative soul, which comes first, when the embryo lives the life of a plant, is corrupted, and is succeeded by a more perfect soul, which is both nutritive and sensitive, and then the embryo lives an animal life; and when this is corrupted, it is succeeded by the rational soul introduced from without (ie by God)”.

Centuries of enlightened thinking (yes, even in the Catholic Church) understood that there were nuances of life, that human development was a process of many stages rather than an instantaneous event. He did not have access to our scientific knowledge, but nothing we have learned since has refuted Aquinas’s basic hypothesis. We now know the exact stage of embryonic development when the central nervous system forms, and have a fair idea when awareness of stimuli such as pain develops. It is no accident that Pope Gregory’s moment of quickening is similar to commonly defined abortion limits, because they both derive from the same logical considerations. The transition from “vegetative” to “animal” states of being is grounded in hard evidence, even if the line between “animal” and human consciousness continues to evade us.

It does seem strange then, that some time in the 19th century – just as scientific advances were shedding light on the moment of conception – the irrational notion of an instantaneous beginning to human existence began to take hold. One moment, there are apparently just a few cells swimming around and in the next a perfectly formed human soul appears, even though nothing much physically has changed. Perhaps it is just our instinctive aversion to ambiguity – we humans do like our tidy mental pigeonholes. Whatever the source of this gut feeling, it is difficult to muster a logical argument to back it up. If mere clusters of human cells were a human person, then HeLa would be a person, or the precipitate from your last blood test. If personhood were defined by a unique combination of DNA, then my twin nieces would not be two separate people. If it were the particular expression of that DNA, then how can you say that different organs constitute a single person? The only consistent way to define a “person” is through the presence of a mind. I think, therefore I am.

Without a mind, and by extension a brain to contain it, a person cannot exist. We already accept that braindead adults are no longer people and so can be unplugged and grieved for in peace without the law getting involved. If a living thing that no longer has a working brain is not a person, then surely a living thing that never had a working brain is not a person either?

(This post originally appeared on Slugger O’Toole)

A people without a name

It seems to me that the root of many of Northern Ireland’s problems is that Huns do not have a well-defined sense of communal identity. For the last hundred years or so it boiled down to the Orange Order – understandable given the Order’s involvement in the foundation of NI and the UUP’s political hegemony. But the OO is too narrow a strand to support the weight of an entire culture, and is in many ways a relic of a bygone age.

Huns opposed the Irish-nationalist thesis, but at the same time they also rejected wholesale the idea of separate identities. Not only did they stand apart from the “Irish” (Taig) ethnic identity, but they did not expend much energy developing one of their own, instead falling back on religious (Protestant) or political (Unionist) identities; or the vague concept of “Britishness”. But to most, the shared “British” identity is one that is (to varying degrees) held in addition to their ethnic ones – there are many black and Asian minorities in England who would never consider themselves English but are quite happy to be British, as to them it is bereft of ethnic overtones.

To Huns however, Britishness became by default their ethnic identity. The English share this confusion, but they have the excuse of being numerous. When the English decide to define Britishness, the others have the option of either going along or (increasingly these days) opting out. When Huns attempt to define Britishness, the others look at them funny and wonder if they fell on their heads trying to kiss the Blarney stone. By failing to define their own ethnic identity, they have ended up in the uncomfortable place where outside forces define their identity for them.

That’s why we Huns need a name, so we can start defining ourselves for a change.

(This post is based on a comment I made on IJP’s blog)

The Sporting Banner of the Emerald Isle (“The Power and the Glory”)

The Sporting Banner of the Emerald Isle

Ireland (the island) presents an inconsistent face to the world. At all-Ireland sporting events a variety of symbolism is in use, while most countries make do with only one or (sometimes) two distinct flags. Confusion between Ireland the island and Ireland the sovereign state results in the alienation of many Unionists from all-island sporting organizations. This has led to many sports adopting more inclusive symbolisms, however these have been done on an ad-hoc basis and suffer from a lack of consistency and design impact. The result is a confusing assortment of State, organizational and unofficial flags being flown, producing a fragmented brand and a divided community of supporters.

A similar problem with anthems led to the commissioning of the song “Ireland’s Call” by the IRFU, which has since been adopted by other sporting organizations, thus becoming a de-facto “sporting anthem”. We are therefore motivated to design an analogous “sporting banner”, with a view to unifying the disparate symbolisms currently in use and presenting a distinctive, common brand.

Design brief

  1. Must represent the island of Ireland across multiple sporting disciplines
  2. Should avoid divisive or controversial design elements
  3. Should be distinct from existing flags, Irish or otherwise
  4. Must be bold and readily identifiable from a distance
  5. Must be able to command broad allegiance
  6. Should be based on existing symbology

Prior art

Most of these can be found on Wikipedia.

  1. IRFU flag
    Pro: already in use, uncontroversial (2,5)
    Con: poor design quality (4), non-universal (1)
  2. Irish Hockey flag
    As IRFU, marginally cleaner design
  3. Irish Cricket flag
    As IRFU, but even worse design
  4. The four-provinces flag
    Pro: widely recognizable, already in use (1,2,5), explicitly represents island of Ireland
    Con: confused design, lack of Unionist engagement
  5. Tricolour
    Pro: in use, recognisable
    Con: politically divisive
  6. Geraldine (“St. Patrick’s”) cross
    Pro: simple, bold design
    Con: obscure, lack of Republican engagement
  7. Harp on green field
    Pro: simple, bold design
    Con: already in use as flag of Leinster
  8. Harp on blue field
    Pro: simple, bold design
    Con: already in use as RoI presidential standard

The above can be broken down into the following pool of design elements:

  1. Green field
    Most commonly used element – uncontroversial and universally recognizable.
  2. Blue field (“St. Patrick’s Blue”)
    Less common, somewhat archaic alternative to the above
  3. Flags of the Four Provinces, in combination
    Explicitly all-Ireland (possible negative connotations for some Unionists)
  4. Orange
    Ironically, the presence of (supposedly Protestant) orange on much Irish symbolism serves to alienate Protestants, whereas green is broadly acceptable.
  5. White
    Commonly found as secondary element
  6. Harp
    Uncontroversial, easily recognizable
  7. Shamrock
  8. Red saltire
    Originally arms of FitzGerald, repurposed as ersatz “St. Patrick’s cross” in 19th C. Slight bias towards unionists (and Blueshirts) but also found in establishment contexts across Ireland


The starting point of our preferred solution is to explicitly draw parallels with “Ireland’s Call”, as the banner and the song are intended to solve similar problems and be used on the same occasions. Linking the banner with the song also helps to underline its design brief as sporting rather than political symbolism.

The lyrical theme of “Ireland’s Call” is one of teammates from the four provinces standing together to face their opponents with pride – the second verse is devoted entirely to poetic descriptions of those four provinces. It would seem natural then to start with the Four Provinces flag (pool element 3), however it suffers from serious design flaws – by combining four complex, disparate designs, one ends up with a whole that is graphically much less than the sum of its parts.

This is not an insurmountable problem – many flags balance the competing requirements of symbolic inclusivity and graphic simplicity by defacing a bold primary design with a complex coat of arms – the flag of Croatia is particularly apposite. We have therefore chosen to include the Four Provinces symbolism in the form of a shield defacing the main flag.

The primary element of the main design was chosen to be a green field (pool element 1) – although St Patrick’s blue (element 2) has an older pedigree, green is more readily associated with Ireland, particularly in sporting contexts where Ireland competes in a green strip. At this stage, we could construct a design similar to the current hockey flag, but such a flag lacks any bold design elements and therefore appears bland and is hard to identify from afar (brief point 4). As brief point 4 is arguably the entire purpose of having a flag, we cannot disregard it.

Orange (element 4) is reminiscent of the republican flag, and therefore too politically charged for our purposes. We have already chosen to deface our flag with a design that includes a harp (element 6). Shamrocks (element 7) would not stand out against the field unless rendered in an unnatural colour. The only element left in our design pool is the Geraldine cross (element 8), but by a stroke of luck it fulfills our requirements perfectly – it is bold and distinctive; the red saltire is nowhere else seen against a green field; and any perceived pro-Unionist bias may be regarded as an appropriate counterweight to any perceived pro-Nationalist bias of the Four Provinces shield.

When the final design is assembled, the Four Provinces stand powerfully at the centre (“shoulder to shoulder”) while the red saltire (with customary white fringing) appears to radiate gloriously outwards. Together these themes draw multiple parallels between song and banner, hence our suggestion that a nickname be lifted directly from the lyrics of Ireland’s Call in order to emphasise a unity of purpose.

To minimize stylistic clashes (and printing costs!) we have reduced the colour palette down to a set of six commonly used bolds. Connacht forgive us.

Although the design is straightforward (green + red saltire + four provinces), bonus symbolism can be milked if one is motivated. The green, white and red colour scheme is partway between the green-white-orange of Nationalists and the red-white-blue of Unionists. The white fringing can be regarded as a white saltire in its own right, a Dissenter counterpart to the red saltire of Anglicans and Gaelic green. The four green triangles visible between the arms of the saltire can be read as a secondary symbol of the four provinces.

By using pre-existing all-Ireland symbols in the design (to wit, various defacements of a green field; red saltire; Four Provinces flag), we also unify those symbols in a coherent brand, so that familiarity with the sporting banner automatically implies familiarity with the components when taken individually. The introduction at an event of even a small number of sporting banners amongst a population of Four Provinces, St Patrick’s crosses and official IRFU flags (say) would likely have a disproportionate effect on brand image, with the other three flags appearing (to the uninitiated) to be special cases of the sporting banner. Thus the combined effect is one of a single brand with complementary strands, rather than an assortment of disconnected brands. This brand is further reinforced by tying it into the lyrics of Ireland’s Call – the aim being that the audio and visual symbols should each invoke a mental image of the other.


vert a saltire gules fimbriated argent, centred an escutcheon quarterly; 1st or a cross gules centred an escutcheon of pretence argent, a dexter hand gules; 2nd azure three crowns or; 3rd per pale first argent a dexter half eagle displayed sable, second azure a sinister arm embowed fessways holding a sword all argent; 4th vert a harp or

Adobe Illustrator source file

16×28 units green field (1:sqrt(3))
red saltire width 2u, white fringing width 1u
shield 6.5x8u, centered, black border 0.2u

four equal area quadrants
centred on quadripoint
upper quadrants square aspect
clockwise from top left: Ulster,Munster,Leinster,Connacht
U cross width 1/8 shield width
U shield 1/4×3/8 s.w.
U hand height 1/4 s.w.
M crowns 3/16×3/16 s.w.
L harp height 7/16 s.w.
L harp turned so strings vertical (to avoid curve of shield)
C eagle height 7/16 s.w.

Pantone (CMYK) palette:

gold: 116C (0,16,100,0)
red: 186C (0,100,81,4)
blue: 281C (100,72,0,32)
green: 364C (65,0,100,42)


The files presented in this post contain some public domain elements from wikimedia commons. All other designs and design elements in this post are hereby released into the public domain.

Rethinking “Irishness” – definitions and symbolism

We have already seen how the unique geography of Ireland rules out some of the usual political options for solving its ethnic dispute, by making the redrawing of borders to match the ethnic divide impractical. But it also leads to problems defining an Irish identity, because unlike most other countries in Europe, it is not the people who define political geography, but the geography that defines the people.

20th century political philosophy accepts the idea that nations have the right to self-determination, that ethnic geography should therefore define political geography. This has led to the current ideal, best exemplified in Europe, of state borders being drawn along ethnic dividing lines. The ethnic patchwork that has taken shape organically over thousands of years is therefore taken as the starting point, and (in theory at least) political geography derives its legitimacy from it. The Danes are defined by their cultural identity, and Denmark is defined as the homeland of the Danish people. When the people did not match the territory (in Schleswig-Holstein) the eventual solution was to redefine Denmark.

But Ireland works the other way around. As an island, its borders are fixed. The Irish people are themselves fixed by the territory, i.e. those people who live (or were born in) Ireland. If you try to define “Irishness” on the usual cultural basis you create a second kind of “Irishness” in conflict with the first. The only way to resolve this ambiguity is to let go of one of these definitions. If one prefers the cultural version, then one defines an “Irishness” that does not cover all natives of the island, so what then does one call the other natives? If we do not call them “Irish” then we implicitly question the legitimacy of their presence. But if we do call them “Irish” then we are guilty of forcing a cultural identity onto those who do not want it.

Alternatively we can choose the geographical definition of “Irish”, but then there must be several native Irish ethnic groups, of which the majority group is just one. We are not short of names for these groups, so long as we are not easily offended: Taig, Hun and Pavee. We thereby place the island’s majority ethnic community on an equal footing with the native minorities (and implicitly also with immigrant minorities), and reserve “Irish” to describe the whole.

Some things which are conventionally identified with Irishness may then be found to be relevant just to the majority Taig ethnic group. In particular, the novel symbols of nationhood deriving from the Home Rule and independence period have no meaning for Huns while older symbols, such as those deriving from the legend of St. Patrick, continue to have broad relevance to all Irish people. The Irish language also has a personal relevance to many Taigs that most Huns do not share.

We see therefore, that neither standard interpretation of modern Irish symbolism is entirely correct. The standard Taig view of independence-era symbols such as the tricolour and anthem is that they are the national symbols of Ireland (the island), even though this was an ideal that was never realised. The standard Hun opinion is that they are the symbols of the Republic of Ireland, despite the strong allegiance they continue to attract from inside the North. It would be more accurate to say that they are the national symbols of Taigs, for if we recognise the right of people to self-identify then we must also recognise their right to show allegiance (or not) to symbols of that identity. By a similar argument, most supposed Northern Ireland symbolism is effectively Hun symbolism in disguise.

It should not come as any surprise that political symbols now have de facto ethnic meanings not intended by their creators, nor should it be any cause for concern. Separating symbolism from politics is one way of defusing tensions – while even politically moderate Huns will balk at any symbolic suggestion that NI “belongs” to the Republic (as flying the tricolour is often viewed), acceptance of the distinct identity of Taigs is mainstream. If existing flags and symbols could come to be accepted as markers of ethnicity rather than political ideology, much of the heat could be taken out of the symbolism debate. This would also then leave the way open for new NI and all-Ireland symbolism to be developed that is free from ethno-political baggage.

The supposed fragility of “Unionist” identity

Alex Kane is on the warpath again:

Sinn Fein has been inviting all sorts of non-republicans to address their ‘uniting Ireland’ conferences.

They would have you believe that it’s part of their ongoing mission to persuade us that we would be better off outside the United Kingdom and that we would have nothing to fear inside a united Ireland.

Well, we wouldn’t have a political identity or a constitutional purpose. We would be denied a mechanism for reversing the decision at another time. We wouldn’t have any structures to protect and promote our core values, or determine our own destiny. Republicanism, it seems, can be given a voice and a chance to secure its end goals inside Northern Ireland: but unionism would never be given the same rights within a united Ireland.

I can think of no reasons or circumstances in which unionists in Northern Ireland would ever vote for a united Ireland. Even ‘turquoise unionists’ – those who indulge the fancy that you can be both Irish and British – would probably come to their senses and realise that once the border went, their Britishness would go with it!

Apparently it is the border that defines Huns, and without it they would cease to exist. The constitutional link with Britain is the sum total of Ulster-British-Protestant identity and is therefore a precious, fragile thing. This is a classic refrain, and one that is accepted by many without question. It is a negative, reactionary line that is born not of pride or self-confidence, but of fear and an assumption of weakness and inevitable failure.

It is a pernicious idea because it implies that an individual’s identity, his self-image, derives not from his own qualities but from an external source. It tells you that your identity can be taken away from you by others, that it depends on political permission. And this has historically suited the purposes of political Unionism, because it sustains the communal block vote.

Nobody argues that Scots ceased to be Scottish after 1707, just because a border was redrawn. Scots are currently an even smaller minority in the UK (8%) than Unionists are in Ireland (15%), yet Scots maintain an identity beyond mere politics, one that survived the loss of their independent state and is in rude health today. The “Unionist community” has never been defined by its own members in such a robust fashion. At times it seems to hang from a thread, its entire existence deriving from a line on a map. This is largely the fault of political Unionism itself, which invested all its energy in building defences against Irish nationalism, and precious little in working out who it was defending.

Ethnicity is not defined by politics. One can be a Scottish Unionist or a Scottish Nationalist, and still be equally Scottish. But political Unionism has not yet understood this. It does not believe that there can be a difference between political Unionism and its ethnic counterpart, as evidenced by Kane’s quote above. Four hundred years of Ulster-British-Protestant history, culture and identity are reduced to a single political issue barely a century old. If there were a united Ireland, political Unionism may well die. But the cultural legacy beneath it would continue to exist after Unionism, just as it existed before Unionism.

And this is where Unionism is failing those that it purports to represent. By framing the constitutional debate in apocalyptic terms it may galvanise the faithful, but it also gives unrealistic hope to its enemies. If one vote for a United Ireland will make the Huns disappear into the mists of history, then there are many who will cheer the process on. A political movement that survives by making its supporters fearful and its opponents confident is probably best described as parasitic. A significant proportion of its own voters believe Unionism will eventually fail, and this lack of confidence can be seen at the root of many of Unionism’s neuroses.

A healthy political culture would not constantly tell itself that it sat on the edge of a precipice. It would try to give its people confidence in their own future security, come what may. But would it still be Unionism?

Ethnicity in Northern Ireland

In my previous post, I argued that the terms “Protestant community” and “Catholic community”, as used for fair employment monitoring in Northern Ireland, are merely proxies – it is not your personal faith (or even your personal political beliefs) that are being monitored, but your ethnicity. And the only words we have that accurately describe these ethnicities are the pejoratives “Hun” and “Taig”.

But what is an ethnicity, and how does this apply to Northern Ireland? From Wikipedia:

An ethnic group (or ethnicity) is a group of people whose members identify with each other, through a common heritage, often consisting of a common language, a common culture (often including a shared religion) and/or an ideology that stresses common ancestry or endogamy.

The “two communities” in NI obviously qualify in terms of self-identification, religion and endogamy. Common ancestry was also a key component of the Gaelic revival, as was the restoration of a dying common language.

But here we see a key difference between Taigs and Huns – while the former have a clear sense of their own ancestry, the latter sometimes appear to struggle. This may be due to the eclectic origins of Huns amongst English and Scots planters, Huguenot refugees and Penal Law converts – groups who have historically shared little in common except the Reformed faith. Contrast this with the older roots of Taigs in the Gaelic population, whose origins are shrouded in mist, spiced only by the Anglo-Norman aristocracy and the occasional Viking, both well-integrated come the time of plantation. Thus Taig identity draws heavily upon language, legend and location, while Hun identity focuses more on religion and politics, with King Billy being the closest approximation to a founding mythology.

But there is another native people who pass the ethnicity test, and that is Irish Travellers or (since I am decrying euphemisms) Pavee. Long neglected, there is an increased awareness of their distinct identity, with the census in NI now counting them as a separate ethnic group. Although Pavee are mainly Catholic and probably descend from Gaelic ancestry, they are strongly endogamous and maintain a nomadic culture equally alien to both Huns and Taigs.

So with this in mind, perhaps the next NI census form should read:

□ Hun
□ Taig
□ Pavee
□ English
□ Scottish
□ Welsh
□ Polish
□ Chinese
□ Indian
□ Black
□ Mixed
□ Other

And maybe instead of “Mixed” we should be allowed to tick more than one box? But that’s an argument for another time.

Whatever clothes befit the times…

I found this a while ago and forgot about it. It seems apposite now, considering that I recently mentioned the fluidity of the labels “Unionism” and “Nationalism”:

Since its formation, the Orange has tended to undermine constructive unionism and bolster its regressive wing.  Indeed the Order, which might present itself as a stalwart of the Union now, took a while to be convinced of its merits.

Senior Orangemen were leading proponents of Dublin rule for the first part of the nineteenth century.  Government from Westminster threatened to introduce a modern form of citizenship which, they rightly feared,, might even extend the franchise to Catholics.

So the Order stayed neutral on the Union and a substantial section of its leadership actively advocated a return to a Dublin parliament.  British allegiance wasn’t allowed to trump anti-Catholic prejudice.

As I said earlier, the underlying ethnic conflict wears whatever clothes are befitting the times.

Are you a Protestant Jew or a Catholic Jew?

If you have ever been employed in Northern Ireland, you will have come across the following question:

Regardless of whether we practice religion, most of us in Northern Ireland are seen as either Catholic or Protestant. We are therefore asking you to indicate your community background by ticking the appropriate box below.

□ I am a member of the Protestant Community
□ I am a member of the Roman Catholic Community
□ I am a member of neither the Protestant nor Roman Catholic Community

If you do not complete this questionnaire we are encouraged to use the “residuary” method which means we can make a determination on the basis of information on file/application form.

Translation: we know this question is inaccurate and potentially offensive, but we are required by law to ask it anyway. If you refuse to answer, we will make something up.

It is inaccurate is because religion is being used as a proxy for something else, something it is afraid to name. That is why it does not ask if you personally are a Protestant or a Catholic, but whether you come from that-community-which-is-mostly-Protestant or that-community-which-is-mostly-Catholic. These are not names, they are circumlocutions. Replacing “Protestant” and “Catholic” with “Unionist” and “Nationalist” is not an improvement – they do not really want to know what your personal political beliefs are. They want to know which tribe you are from. It would be more straightforward – and honest – to ask the following instead:

What is your ethnic background?

□ Hun
□ Taig
□ Other

The words may be shocking, but they cut to the chase. We are not potential victims of discrimination because of our religion, but because of the ethnic origin that membership of a particular denomination implies. Our personal politics are no defence either – a Hun who professes to be a Republican merely invites increased suspicion from both sides.

The old story of the Belfast rabbi being asked “are you a Protestant Jew or a Catholic Jew?” is well worn, precisely because it contains an important truth. “Protestant” and “Catholic” in this context don’t actually mean Protestant and Catholic. What the questioners are really asking, in an inarticulate way, is “we don’t care what religion you are, are you a Hun or a Taig?” When expressed using blunt language, the absurdities are cast aside and the truth exposed.

Taigs and Huns – no better option?

In my previous post, I argued that we need new words other than “Unionist” and “Nationalist” to describe the ethnic (as opposed to political or religious) divisions within Northern Ireland, and that we already had perfectly good words in “Hun” and “Taig” if we were willing to overlook their origin as tribal insults. But are these really the best options available?

“British” and “Irish” are completely unsuitable – a significant proportion of people in NI consider themselves both, to varying degrees. “Ireland” – and by extension “Irish” – is already an ambiguous term (“island of” vs. “Republic of”), and “British” can also mean different things to different people (“Brits out!”).

“Ulsterman” is not a tribal label, and its history as an inaccurate synonym for “Northern Irishman” is unhelpful. “Fenian” is a political pejorative, not an ethnic one. As an archaic synonym for “Irish Republican” it is still useful in a historical context; and in a modern context it is almost universally followed by “bastard”, from which it may be difficult to disassociate. “Jaffa” implies a connection with Orangeism, and thus has political undertones. Loyal Orders are a declining pastime amongst Huns, so it is also increasingly inaccurate. And it’s not even a good insult.

No, there are no good alternatives. The only option left is to invent completely new terms, so that we can avoid any personal discomfort. But in doing so we throw away the unique selling point of “Hun” and “Taig” – they convey the tribal divide clearly to the target audience without the need for footnotes or lengthy caveats.

And pejoratives are redeemable – minority communities often adopt the insults directed at them, as an act of defiance. But we must be careful to avoid the fate of the N word, which is acceptable for a black person to say, but must never cross the lips of whites. It is good then that “Taig” and “Hun” are both insults, for the sake of parity of esteem.

So it is conceivable that they might one day be adopted by their respective tribes. Perhaps they could even be allowed into respectable conversation. In this blog I will assume the latter, although I will be careful to use both terms in each post lest I be accused of bias. It is far too soon to utter them in the pub or on the street. One step at a time.

But the true test will be whether rehabilitating these words is useful. I hope to demonstrate in subsequent posts that it is.