Andrew Mitchell, Chief Whip, for now
We all know using certain slang words can land you in very hot water (are you listening, Ricky Gervais). We had to laugh when the word "Pleb" was used this week by the Government's Chief Whip, of all people. Unfortunately he used it against a copper, and we all know they don't like to be called plebs. It could even end up costing him his job! Police representatives are calling for him to resign, and he's had to issue a crawly apology to the Police and the Prime Minister. Read the article in The Sun here.
'Pleb' is one of those slangs which keeps threatening to die out but just keeps coming back - it's the Schwarzenegger of British slang. What does it mean and why do coppers (and everybody else) find it so offensive?
The word is a contraction of "plebeian", meaning a lower-class of Roman citizen. But as ever with slang, it's meaning has expanded, and has come to be connected with "common" or working people, the lower classes. Wikipedia article on plebs.
Picked up gleefully by public schoolboys, its meaning changed over time to be a derogatory term to mean anybody of the lower orders. But if you're on the receiving end it ain't so funny. It's considered an extremely rude and offensive way for a member of the upper classes to express disdain against anybody socially inferior to them.
That was perhaps acceptable in the 1950s, but in "classless" Britain in the 2010 its going to be extremely offensive, and reinforces some very unwelcome stereotypes about the speaker. Anybody using this term in real life is going to considered a "toff", member of the priveleged classes looking disdainfully down on the target.
Advice to anybody in Government: don't use the word "pleb" about anybody, it'll seriously backfire on you and could cost you your job.
PS: its flippin funny though.