As a captain in the so-called politically correct police, I’ve learned that there are arrogant types who use offensive language to assert some kind of superiority. And there are well-meaning types who just get it wrong.
Hugh Muir, of course, would always count himself amongst the latter number…
On Sunday, preparing for What the Papers Say on Radio 4, I wrote a script which said protesters in Hong Kong were angry at China “welching” on a deal to preserve human rights. “You’d be advised to change that”, said the producer sagely.
Really? Hugh was nonplussed, as I would be.
I’ve looked it up. And found that the phrase has long been considered derogatory of the Welsh, perpetuating an old English stereotype that the Welsh are untrustworthy.
Of course, like other words, there’s considerable doubt on the derivation:
As is usually the case with history and vocabulary, the derivation of welching is debated. There is a version that says it was born of English bookies who owed money fleeing over the border into Wales to escape their creditors.
Another, apparently credited to AJP Taylor, suggests the first man to use the Gaming Act 1845 as an excuse to escape paying gambling debts was a Mr Welch.
So, did Hugh brave the ferocious seea of political correctness? Reader, he did not:
Whatever the truth of it, “reneging” worked just as well in the script. Who wants to give offence?
People who don’t want to be told to change their writing style to suit the offendotrons, perhaps?