A New Parlour Game: Obsolete Words to Describe Iain Duncan Smith and the Government

Earlier today I posted up an article about an obsolete term I’d found in the Dictionary of Historical Slang, which I thought pretty accurately described the current head of the Department for Work and Pensions. This was ‘Gentleman Ranker’, which referred to ‘a broken gentleman, serving in the ranks of the army’. In other words, this was a middle or upper class man, who had lost his money. Unable to buy a commission, he was forced to serve in the ranks as an ordinary squaddie.

This indeed suits Iain Duncan Smith, as unfortunately, although he has retained his wealth and landed property, he is rumoured to have been Returned To Unit after failing to pass the officers’ exams at Sandhurst.

Since I posted it, I got this comment from Maxwell 1957. He says that there’s another obsolete term, ‘Wancel’, which also aptly describes IDS. This is 18th century slang for a person, who was so incompetent that they were beyond redemption.

This could be the beginning of a new parlour game!

Older readers of this blog may recall the BBC panel game, Call My Bluff. This was a how on BBC 2 in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in which two teams competed to try and deceive each other over the meaning of obsolete words in the English language. The teams gave three definitions of a particular old, and now disused word, only one of which was correct. The opposing team then had to guess which was the correct answer. It was somewhat like the round in the Griff Rhys Jone’s show, The Quizeum, on BBC 4, where the two teams each have an object, and try to deceive them by offering a false explanation along with the object’s correct identity.

The show was led by that stalwart of British comedy, Frank Muir and with Patrick Campbell, heading the opposing team and they were accompanied by various guest celebrities. The questions were set by Cliff Michelmore, Muir was later joined by Dennis Norden and Arthur Marshal on the music quiz, My Music, and a similar game show, My Word. In the first quiz, they were asked to identify various pieces of music by the question master, Steve Race, and were joined by a Scots opera singer, whose name unfortunately now escapes me.

And in My Word, Norden, Muir and co competed to offer various shaggy dog stories to explain well-known quotations from literature. For example, they once gave a very long, and entirely spurious tale, to explain that the line from Pepys’ diary, ‘And so to bed’, really was ‘And saw Tibet!’

‘Call My Bluff’ ran from 1965 to 1988, but was revived in the late 1990s with Sandi Toksvig and then Fiona Bruce. The panellists included the great satirist and editor of Punch, Alan Coren.

So, if you know any further ancient and obsolete terms that fit Iain Duncan Smith, his massive ego and even greater incompetence and rapacity, please feel free to send ’em in. It’ll be interesting to see how many terms describe this poltroon, before the more obscure byways of the English language are exhausted.

Here’s a clip of the show from the 1970s, with Cliff Michelmore, Patrick Campbell, Edward Woodward, Frank Muir, Joan Bakewell and Mr Blobby’s criminal accomplice, Noel Edmonds, to remind you what it was like in its heyday.

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17 Responses to “A New Parlour Game: Obsolete Words to Describe Iain Duncan Smith and the Government”

  1. sdbast Says:

    Reblogged this on sdbast.

  2. maxwell1957 Says:

    Oh good! This gives me an opportunity to participate in the
    ” growed-up ” version of my favourite activities as a schoolboy.The noble and glorious pastime that I write of is looking up all the rude words in the Oxford dictionary.
    Here is another one for you, not from a dictionary but close, from the TV programme ” Countdown”.
    i found this one on the interweb a couple of years ago:
    What’s the longest word you can make from the letters OBSOREN? Straightlaced Countdown host Nick Hewer stifled his blushes after a contestant offered the well-known swear word “OSBORNE” on the pre-recorded Channel 4 afternoon show.

    The Oxford English Dictionary lists the origin of the word as being from the Saxon phrase ‘Os-borne’ originally meaning ‘idiot who hasn’t a clue.’ The word is now commonly meant to mean “wanker” or”dildo”

    • beastrabban Says:

      That’s a good one. Usually what you find if you go looking for funny episodes from Countdown is a lot of sniggering about the phrase, ‘I’ll have a ‘p’, Bob’. Or else there’s the bit where a student says ‘Orgasms’ for ‘organism’.

      There’s a joke about schoolboys looking up all the ‘rude’ words in the dictionary in Blackadder the Third, in the episode where they think they’ve accidentally burnt Samuel Johnson’s manuscript of his dictionary.

  3. jaynel62 Says:

    Reblogged this on jaynelinney and commented:
    How about using #’Wancel’ or #‘Gentleman Ranker’ as new names for #IDS? WHY – find out here https://beastrabban.wordpress.com/2015/05/16/a-new-parlour-game-obsolete-words-to-describe-iain-duncan-smith-and-the-government/ MUST READ & SHARE

  4. A New Parlour Game: Obsolete Words to Describe Iain Duncan Smith and the Government | jaynelinney Says:

    […] #’Wancel’ or #‘Gentleman Ranker’ as new names for #IDS? WHY – find out here https://beastrabban.wordpress.com/2015/05/16/a-new-parlour-game-obsolete-words-to-describe-iain-dunc… MUST READ & […]

  5. jaynel62 Says:

    Sheer Brilliance Beast – Thanks for such a great post x

  6. stilloaks Says:

    Reblogged this on DWPExamination. and commented:
    Great post thank you Beastrabban.

  7. rainbowwarriorlizzie Says:


  8. A6er Says:

    Reblogged this on Britain Isn't Eating.

  9. Badger Says:

    British Army Slang ( modern day )

    A ”Walter” ( from Walter Mitty, I believe) :-
    Some who leaves the Army and tell civilians that they achieved a rank much higher than they actually did.

    • Badger Says:

      I.E. as in ” he tells every one he was a Colonel but was really a Captain.”

      • Badger Says:

        I wonder if there is a term for someone who ‘says ‘ they attended an overseas University,
        but in fact attended a overseas technical college ?

      • beastrabban Says:

        I don’t know, but I expect there is a term for someone who lies about their academic qualifications. Perhaps Jeffrey, after a certain Conservative MP and thriller writer, who tells everyone that he went to Oxford, but in fact did a P.E. qualification at a teacher training college in the city, rather than going to the university?

      • beastrabban Says:

        That’s a good one, Badger. Definitely fits!:)

  10. Carbolic Says:

    He’s a “fop-doodle”: A stupid or insignificant fellow; a fool; a simpleton.

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