Potty-mouthed and proud

Swearing and shouting are underrated, says Giles Coren. Four-letter words can be immensely satisfying and extraordinarily effective

1 October 2008

Swearing and shouting are underrated, says Giles Coren. Four-letter words can be immensely satisfying and extraordinarily effective

When I was ever so small and sweet, romper-suited and frilly-booted and really quite an angel to look at, I must have had a gob on me like an angry plasterer, because the only piece of advice I can
remember my mother ever giving me is: ‘If you’ve got nothing nice to say, Giles, then keep your mouth shut.’

This was most often said at table, I think, when I was passing comment on the ickiness of the boil-in-the-bag cod mornay or the pooey colour of the butterscotch Angel Delight, perhaps on the state
of my baby sister’s table manners, or my father’s, or the smell of the Portuguese au pair…

But it was advice I never took. And it’s just as well. For as it has turned out, I am the restaurant critic of the world’s greatest newspaper, a television broadcaster known mostly for
being rude back to Gordon Ramsay, and the sender of an angry email to a sub-editor which went viral and put my writing (albeit a scarily primal, late-night, id-driven version of it) in front of an
audience most writers can only dream of. If I had listened to my mum, I would be driving a minicab. Or collecting whelks for Mr Wong, and glad of my £1 an hour.

Rudeness has been good to me over the years. And while I, like most people on the threshold of middle age, deplore our society’s ongoing descent into vulgarity, and believe that politeness
is, and must remain, the grease that keeps the wheels of the nation turning, I am here to tell you that being very, very rude to the right people, at the right time, can be extraordinarily
satisfying, not to mention spiritually elevating, professionally effective and lucrative beyond imagining.

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For example, after leaving the Times as a 27-year-old in a storm of four-letter words and smashed furniture, I was rehired by the editor I had rowed with when she moved to the Mail on Sunday
because ‘it’ll be useful to have a nutcase like you on my side’. And the Mail pays nutcases real money, as we know.

I was horrid about Dylan Jones, the editor of GQ, in a column in 2003, and within the month had joined the magazine as political columnist. Indeed, I had never once been invited to contribute to
The Spectator until, in an interview with the Guardian the other day, I said some terrible things about it and thus (obviously) scored my first commission.

Only twice in my life have I ever been truly talked about. The first time was when I won the Literary Review Bad Sex Award (‘she grabbed at his dick, which was leaping around like a shower
dropped in an empty bath’). And the second was when I expressed my displeasure at a sub-editor who had removed a word (a whole word!) from my copy in a 1,009-word email whose mildest moment
came when I asked the poor fellow, ‘Can’t you hear that it is wrong? It’s not f—ing rocket science. It’s f—ing pre-GCSE scansion… F—. F—, f—,

If you Google my name, references to one or other of these incidents is all you will get for the first, ooh, million pages. From the Rawalpindi News to the Inuit Intelligencer, I am world-famous as
the Bad Sex guy with the shitty temper.

But I didn’t ask people to take any notice of these rare lapses of taste. The first was buried deep in a rather difficult novel, and the second in a private email to a colleague, who chose to
get his revenge (quite reasonably) by leaking it. It’s just, I think, that public language has become so boring of late that a bit of directness speaks to people in ways we can barely

It was, after all, the Guardian, the most boringly written, fey, equivocating, wan, PC-hobbled organ around, that first brought my email to the world. First running it in full on its website, and
then again across two pages of the paper, along with two other emails of mine, 1,000 words of comment and a full-page photo. They even put my picture on the front page. They knew how boring their
paper was and guessed, quite rightly, that my email would come as a breath of fresh air to their jaded readers. And, indeed, there followed a week of letters about me — a barely known writer
on a rival paper — from their excited regulars.

John McEnroe did not set out to be known for his rudeness. He did not think it was big or clever. He just wanted to play tennis. But some of the umpires (like some sub-editors) were morons. Chalk
dust flew up all over. And he just had to tell it like it was. The authorities came down on him like a ton of bricks, but the crowds — bored numb after years of Björn Borg — went
crazy for him. In the same way, my old pal Gordon Ramsay, a sweet and gentle soul, swore at a couple of sous-chefs and, after 30 years of Mogadon Delia, the crowds went wild.

Old folk will always tell you that swearing and rudeness is a sign of ignorance, that it debases the language. That you should think — even count — to ten before you speak. But
that’s sad old bollocks from the 1950s. Language is so moribund now that a bit of directness, a bit of old-fashioned free-association, can have a new and awesome power.

At the bottom end of the linguistic scale, kids are all, ‘like, innit, bruv, you know what I’m sayin…’ to the point where they are clearly not saying anything, and have
reclaimed the condition of grunting primates that we took a million years to evolve from. And at the ‘top’ end, in political debate and in the media, it’s all peri- phrasis and
euphemism. It’s all: ‘let me make one thing clear’; it’s all ‘rafts of measures’ and ‘step-changes’; it’s all ‘can I assist you at
all?’ and ‘somewhat inebriated after a number of libations…’.

And you just want to shout, ‘F——k!’ And if you do, it seems, people really sit up and listen.

Just how much that email has come to define me was made clear when I was introduced to David Cameron the other day and the first thing he said was, ‘I loved your email.’ Spotting a
possible chance to step in and put a bit of poke back into this country’s political discourse, I said, ‘Thanks very much. So, do you want me to come in and do a bit of
speechwriting?’ But he said that he thought, on balance, not.

But if he stands up at the first PMQs of the new term and says, ‘Let me just make this abundantly clear: the Labour party are a prize bag of w——s and Gordon Brown is a
c—,’ then you’ll know he changed his mind.

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Show comments
  • Junk Male

    Sorry, Coren Junior, but you have shown yourself up for what you are – a talentless, egotistical, third rate imitation of your late father.

  • adam wright

    No matter how you dress it up Giles, you are still a prat and a second-class writer

  • AndyC

    Not that famous, to be truthful. Your dad was a genuine wit without ever being a pottymouth. And your sister had a doomed but valiant stab at making the best porn film ever. But you just sort of eat for a living…

  • David Short

    I’m afraid I agree with the previous two comments.

    Where would this offensive man be if he hadn’t been brought up in privileged meeja north London with a well-connected father?

    Teaching sociologoy in some shabby provincial comprehensive perhaps.

    At least his sister has shown she can shine at international level at poker despite being a lacklustre columnist.

    Her poker success earned her £500,000 in one competition, and that’s her achievement alone.

    Nothing to do with favours done for her father.

  • Frank P


    In the real world of course expletives have always lubricated the discourse of everyone from the age of about, well, shall we say five? As punctuation, they can be just as inventive, apposite and pomposity puncturing as well oiled polite satire or sarcasm.
    By the way you lifted that last sentence of yours from at least 20 of my Coffee House posts (and 40 more variations of even more exotic versions of it that the ‘moderator’ spiked). But I won’t claim copyright, because it is merely a self-evident truth, upon which there is no copyright, thank God.

  • Frank Pulley


    I bet your sister is capable of the odd epithet in a put-down, isn’t she? What a clever girl she is. Enjoyed her series about philology and origins, immensely.

  • MDH

    The earlier comments say it all, really. I was pretty appalled at Mr Coren’s email, which, frankly, would have got him a punch from many of the sub-editors it’s been my pleasure to work for and with over the years.

    As (yet another) well-connected second-rater, I’d say Al Gruaniad was his natural home. And shame on The Spectator for printing this rubbish

  • Prospero13

    A ‘difficult novel’? Difficult to read, certainly.
    Your sister’s sharp yet still charming. Were you dropped on your head?

  • robert

    You’re not “famous” for being rude, twat. You’re mildly notorious for being an arrogant, pompous ass!

  • MartinW

    Egotistical and nasty, with no consideration for others. Coren is a child having tantrums and out of control.

  • Hugh Northam

    I’m glad I have never met Mr Coren, and never will. It would tax my courtesy to have to deal with someone who congratulates himself on the inelegant and banal (not to say ungrammatical) prose he writes, enlivened only by the use of four letter words, and who fails to appreciate that the whole point of social and professional intercourse is not to give satisfaction to the person who fails in courtesy without regard to the effect on the reactions of his interlocutors. My patience with Mr Coren is, moreover, thoroughly exasperated by his ungrammatical “swearing and rudeness is a sign of ignorance”. It is apparent that Mr Coren, like the grunting youths he affects to deplore, has an attention span of insufficient length to enable him to match two nouns with a plural verb. It surely a sign of the decline of The Spectator that its pages are inhabited by this piece of self-publicising drivel. It is neither funny nor persuasive. No wonder The Spectator is looking to invigorate itself with Austrlian content under the aegis of Oscar Humphries.

  • Ed Lancey

    Shame your old boy isn’t still around to tell you to shut the fuck up.

  • ian skidmore


  • sonia morris

    I love you, Giles Coren and I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m a bit that way myself.

  • Steve W

    It does not say much for Mr Coren’s education at Westminster and Oxford (a first in English!)that he thinks it clever or funny to be boorish and rude.

  • James Green

    Perhaps Mr Coren measures the success of his existence on this planet by others simply reacting to him being a moron. Oh, the irony!

  • Tony Pandy

    It isn’t your rudeness, Giles, that has made you a laughing stock. It’s your pretentious self-regard for your pisspoor journalism. The “first million” Google hits, huh? The Spectator shouldn’t have published this self-exonerating piece of crotch-cradling wishful thinking.

  • Walter Ellis

    In fact, the first reference to you on Google is your Wikipedia entry, which ends with the suggestion (probably inserted by you) that you only got your job on The Times because of your dad. I couldn’t check the other eight million entries (actually 57,600 … as I’m sure you knew), which do, admittedly, concentrate on your fouler Fowler’s tendency. It must be great being you. In my case, it would be even greater as I’d be 20 years younger.

  • tom

    Complete and utter crap by anyone’s standards.

    I hate this guy, he is a second rate writer and no-rate human being.

  • Frank P

    I knew that there were a few pompous prats among the Speccie readers, especially those who also scribble for a living, but by jingo! Giles, you’ve smoked out more than I would ever have imagined. Jealous hacks, friends of Gordon, or friends of Dorothy even – given the feline spite?

  • M McGregor

    I honestly don’t see the point of printing this article, other than glorifying ill-mannered, foul-mouthed conduct. If the author is serious, it’s appalling; and if it’s ‘tongue in cheek’ it is too near the reality of modern Britain to be funny. Either way it reflects no credit on him, or your publication’s editorial policy.

    Obviously abusive language may be ‘satisfying’ at times, which is why it exists; as does ‘road rage’ and other forms of tantrum for the same reason. It has certainly proved to be
    ‘effective’ for people like John McEnroe and Gordon Ramsey :
    but only because we live in a society which not only tolerates but actively encourages gutter behaviour of all kinds, instead of it resulting in instant disqualification.

  • CharlieRay15

    I don’t think it would be unfair to bracket Coren together with Joe Kinnear, the charmless and boorish temporary manager of Newcastle United.

  • George

    Sounds like Frank P is on someone’s payroll.

    How could anyone be jealous of a loser like Giles Coren?

    He’s never even had a proper job, and the only work he gets is because of his dad.

  • Richard Horton

    “The excessive use of expletives is the way in which the inarticulate endeavour to be eloquent” Write out 500 times Coren. As I had to 30 odd years ago. Made no fucking diference of course.

  • Emma B, Cape Town

    Come on, Spectator readers, what’s your problem? Giles is funny!

  • Bob Grundy

    Twentyfive comments so far, of which two are in favour of young Corens poor effort of being, well what ? a self publisist perhaps……
    Is it surprising that these two are females ?
    Best all round if he got a proper job, if he can.

  • Vespasian

    With so many in the media jumping on the bandwagon and swearing away because they’re desperatly trying to prove how ‘cool’ they are, being original & interesting now would probably consist of not swearing, and perhaps being rude to people without using any four letter words. Coren and people like him are so tiresome: their love of swearing, makes them seem like little children discovering with glee that they can swear and mummy dosen’t smack them anymore. Swearing just shows a complete lack of imagination and vocabulary. Grow up Giles, get a life…

  • M Taylor

    Personally, Giles, I stopped being a fan of yours after you stopped living next door to Victor Meldrew on that TV series you used to be in.

  • Lawrence

    Swearing doesn’t suit you Giles!
    You are just a pompous London tosspot who only reviews restaurants in Kensington and Chelsea.
    If you are paid to write this kind of rubbish then my name’s Jonathan Ross

  • Belinda

    Giles Coren-you are an idiot.

    Swearing reveals the character of a person who has low standards and a lack of common courtesy.
    Giles Coren’s lack of ability to find adequate words with which to express himself,leaves him to resort to swearing in order to appear ‘hip,cool and oh so tough and macho’ i’m sorry i’m quacking in my boots. He is not as bright as he professes himself to be.

    Giles Coren,you have an over inflated opinion of your own importance,you are a prat.

    So,no,you are not famous,you are infamous for being an idiot.

  • Alicia

    Giles Coren…hhmmm..now let me think. I know who you are.

    You’re that racist bigot employed by The Times newspaper, who slurs an entire nation (no not a minority of fools who have undoubtedly had their comeuppance)no,an entire nation,by writing propogandist drivel with absolutely no historical fact to back up your bizarre claims.

    Giles Coren the average ‘cooking critic’ getting involved in politics!!

    Is The Times newspaper so low on staff that it resorts to employing a below average and mediocre cook to write for it’s political pages.

  • MG

    Not only are you a prick, Giles Coren, you’re showing up anyone who gives any encouragement or endorsement to your bad attitude, as a prick in their own right. You reflect badly on The Times and The Spectator.

    Cameron for instance, in his party Conference speech, spoke of our broken society, and our lack of civility. Now that you mentioned him loving your rude e-mail to the sub-editor, he’s in my eyes a goner, an ingratiating slime ball with no principles. I won’t be voting for him. Doesn’t he see that you Giles Coren are not only one of the symptoms of our broken society, but also one of the perpetrators?

    Your supposedly cool, fearless, irreverent, anti-authority, and anti-PC attitude, springs merely from having been molly coddled by your unduly priveledged background, and from not having been slammed down yet.

  • John Bull

    Conspicuous that in your desperate, begging attempt to convince us that you might have a likeable side after all, you completely omit what you are most disliked for: your completely ignorant, probably racist remarks about our Polish friends and the Holocaust. The Poles are good people and as a Brit I’m glad they’re here now and I’m glad they did more than their bit in the Battle of Britain, Monte Cassino and Arnhem. I’m totally ashamed of your inaccurate and unfair comments about Polish immigrants and their forefathers. You think you’re so damn funny – nobody else does.

  • Giles London

    Look, I am bloody annoyed about this. Who IS Giles Coren? Read a proper restaurant reviewer. Come to Giles London Gets Stuffed at Blogspot. I tell the truth about restaurants. And it hurts. Plus I swear a bit.

  • Charlie

    Giles failed to mention his article about “Poles Apart”. It was filled with geographical errors and lacked historical insight. The way he diminished and lied about the deaths of innocent people- Jews and Poles alike- to satisfy his lust for infamy is not “tongue and cheek” but actually quite sickly. He ought to have apologised or even better read some history books. I am only half his age but feel twice his maturity.

  • Paul

    I couldn’t agree more with the last two comments. Coren’s diva-style tirade shows how unbelievably petty and small-minded this man really is. Relying on lazy stereotypes such as ‘an Irish plasterer’ this man has all the talent, wit and social graces of, well, a second rate journo buoyed up by their own self-importance.

  • Paul

    Only a tosser who has never had to work for anything in his life would talk like this. His reviews of restaurants are just an excuse for him to emphasise his problems with society and why no-one takes him seriously. If he was half the man his father was he would be a great man, however as it stands he is an arrogant, racist, trustfund baby. If he had even a smidgen of talent I may be inclined to take him seriously.

  • GW

    Glad to see your piece ends on a stressed syllable – good ending too!

  • samuel coleridge

    super-fucking-sized delusions of adequacy. but i still rekkun giles is an ok sort of twat, know what i mean…

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