Winston Churchill—or was it Dylan Thomas or maybe George Bernard Shaw?—having told us that Great Britain and the United States are separated by the barrier of a common language, I was not surprised to be unable to make my way through a recent issue of The Times of London without resorting to an online dictionary—even though The Times is no longer the Keeper of the King’s English that it was before being Murdochized. Nonetheless, three words leapt out at me in a recent perusal of the venerable Thunderer’s news pages.
First was a story about the waste of money on a quango that was unable to take action owing to delay by the government in issuing guidelines. The headline even referred to the situation as a “Quango Tango.”
Next, I read that Prime Minister Gordon Brown was a bit too frit to answer certain Parliamentary questions before the next election.
And finally, Parliament was considering new regulations relating to asbos.
Quango? Frit? Asbos? Printed lexicons were of no help, since these are all coinages too recent to make it into their pages. The Internet, God bless its perverse little heart, came to the rescue. I was able to ferret out the following definitions:
Quango – An acronym for a “quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization.” In the United States I suppose you could call the Postal Service and the Federal Reserve “quangos,” although most people prefer to call them something else.
Frit – A colloquialism from former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s native Lincolnshire, derived from “frightened” and when used in a political sense meaning “cowardly.” Mrs. Thatcher famously used the word in a 1983 speech about a political opponent in which she shyly asked, in her demure and dulcet tones: “The right honorable gentleman is afraid of an election, is he? Frightened? Frit? Couldn’t take it? Couldn’t stand it?” Fraught with frit, the poor fellow froze on the spot.
Asbo – Another acronym, for “anti-social behaviour order,” which is something like a restraining order imposed to prohibit minor objectionable actions that do not warrant criminal prosecution, such as swearing, drinking to excess, noisemaking, or possibly listening to Britney Spears CDs. It is sometimes alleged that youthful delinquents in Britain regard having an asbo issued against them as a badge of honor (or, rather, honour).
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has a whole drawer full of badges of honor, none of them earned by him, but nonetheless he offers these verses to memorialize these unusual words:
I just adore the taste of satin mangos,
And must deplore the haste in Latin tangos,
And trust no more the waste and fat in quangos.
Somewhere I think that it is writ
That you must be a native Brit
In order for you to be frit.
The young delinquent whom they razz so
Lives his life as though it has no
Rules—and so he needs an asbo.