Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Return Of The Der-Bains

When you’re at school certain insults do the rounds like a weird kind of grammatical virus. Two that stand out for me are “wassock” and “pranite”, both of which became very popular in the early eighties and were slung about my junior school playground like disyllabic Molotov cocktails.

But the one that caught on the most and had the biggest impact was “der-brain”. Anyone who did or said anything remotely idiotic (which when you are 10 or 11 is a regular occurrence) was declaimed in as loud a voice as possible as being a “der-brain”. Adopting a heavily spasticated tone of voice was also thought de rigeur when using this insult.

I’m sure this insult went national during the eighties and was heard in playgrounds (and building sites) all over the land. However, what I am sure was a purely local phenomenon was the transmutation that occurred one day when in my school playground at least “der-brain” suddenly morphed into “der-bain”. The meaning stayed the same but the loss of that single “r” somehow rendered the insult (a) funnier and (b) more effective. Being labelled a “der-bain” was a good degree worse than being labelled a “der-brain”.

Eventually, as these things do, these schoolyard insults died away to be replaced with boring, standardized, post puberty expletive combinations. Insulting someone became a cold and precise undertaking with no real room for imagination or the invention of new language forms. So “der-brain” – and indeed “der-bain” – died a natural death and dropped away from the general lexicon of childhood foulmouthedness.

Until last Sunday.

I must have dug “der-bain” out of my memory and uttered it at home or talked about it to Karen... who knows... but suddenly I heard it coming out of the mouth of Ben, my eldest boy. He was playing in the bath with some minifigures while I did some chores in the office and I could hear him re-enacting various scenes from Doctor Who. David Tennant’s last episode featuring the return of the Timelords (and a viciously spitting Timothy Dalton) had obviously made a big impression.

The improvised script when something like this:

Timelords: kneel before us petty humans! You are no match for us – we are far cleverer than you are and you are nothing!

Humans: no we’re not; we’re cleverer than you think and we will defeat you, you der-bains...!


I have to say I stumbled in my chores and had to stifle a giggle. It took me right back to the playground. I am now wondering if, with some clever auto-suggestion, I can resurrect “wassock” and “pranite” for a new generation.

In the meantime, if Steven Moffatt and the BBC would like to purchase a brand new Doctor Who script with cool playground lingo they can contact me via this blog.

Toodle-pip, der-bains.


32 comments:

The Dotterel said...

Yup, der-brain, yup, wassock, but... pranite? Never reached any of my (many) schools, I'm afraid! Can you give me the etymology please?

Steve said...

The Dotterel: I'm not sure but I think pranite was a forerunner of pratt or a bastardization thereof.

Anonymous said...

I had forgotten wassock, and think pranite in my school became 'pranny' at one point.
Nick (husband and I) still occasionally use the 1980's 'blow on nails, polish on jumper 'skill'' gesture when we've achieved something, although neither of us know anything about where this came from originally!
Helen (Codd)

Tenon_Saw said...

I still use 'wazzock' a little though I default to 'numpty' especially when talking to myself if I lose an object I had a few seconds previously.

Gappy said...

Ah but do you remember the standard reply to, 'Duh you wally!'?

My playground fairly sang with cries of, 'I'm not a wally, I'm a wally basher!' At which point it was considered appropriate to begin hitting the source of the original insult repeatedly over the head.

Happy days.

Rol said...

No, I don't recall pranite either. Or the loss of the second r from der-brain.

Still, if this is the kind of language you overhear your lad using at the moment... I imagine you'll look back on these days as the happy, innocent times.

Being Me said...

Well, der-brains crossed the Pacific because it made it to our little corner of the world (here in Victoria, anyway). But we never got the mutated r-less version.

And I don't remember wassock or pranite. But I'm all for a reinstatement! Good luck with that one!

Heather said...

der-brain I knew but der-bain? Nope. and as for pranite...are you sure you didn't just make that up? wassock however is a glorious word and ought to be celebrated. Perhaps a national wassock day?

Steve said...

Helen: nice to hear from you. I well remember the skill gesture (though obviously haven't had cause to use it for quite some time). I think at one point you had to utter the word "skill" when doing it in confident tones that were meant to suggest you were some kind of demi-god.

Tenon_Saw: I never think to use "numpty". My default term of abuse / affection tends to be "pratt" as I favour the explosive consonant sounds. Though I'm sure someone once told me (hello Sarah Deutsch, if you're reading) that a pratt is a pregnant goldfish. I ought to Google it but can't be arsed.

Gappy: we never had a reposte of such wit and cleverness when I was at school. Mainly because if you were being called a der-bain you were being called it en masse and bashing everybody would have been impossible (not to mention foolhardy).

Rol: that's really cheered me. Thank you. Though I don't doubt for a minute he swears like a trooper at school and then employs an "instant edit chip" once he's at home (like I did).

Being Me: ah - so good to know that der-brain was in fact a global phenomenon. If I could do the same for wassock I would consider my life's work complete.

Heather: honest, guv, pranite was real. I even heard it on a TV sitcom once, so there. As for wassock... yes, it is a wonderful word. Almost onomatopoeia-like in a bizarre kind of way. A shrine needs to be built in its honour.

Gina said...

I hadn't heard pranite either. I have some vague recollection of der-brain but wally and wassock were more popular in my neck of the woods. I still say wassock - usually prefixed by dozy.

I'm trying to think what my sons say. Well, I'm afraid I have to knock "retard" out of them on a regular basis as that seems to be the thing to say round here (it is Norfolk!). It's banned in this house but occasionally one will slip out. Oh yes "and that's so gay" which is also banned.

Oops I am making my children sound like chavs aren't I? I shall have to try to de-chav them a bit and introduce the beauties of der-brain which is def pre-chav.

Steve said...

Gina: it's so important to have standards where insults are concerned. Retard hasn't made it to my household but protestations of gayness do occasionally arise but not often. The same with lameness. We're evidently keeping chavness at a healthy low in my neck of the woods (despite the proliferation of white trash at the top end of the street)! ;-)

Tenon_Saw said...

I was wrong before. My default insult is 'Muppet'; it automatically left my mouth this morning when I did something stupid.
There are MANY words for a pregnant goldfish if you believe what people tell you. Tw*t is the one round here, but twerp has also been offered. Hence I was amused (and corrected) by http://www.funtrivia.com/askft/Question29489.html

Steve said...

Tenon_Saw: ah muppet is a great one. As is "you mug". Both got a Sarf London feel to 'em... but that might be down to police dramas on the telly. Cheers for the link by the way!

ArtSparker said...

Is this actually about the elections there, and the insults represent the parties? Just wondering.

Steve said...

ArtSparker: funnily enough I did consider publishing the post with a nice picture of David Cameron under the title...

French Fancy said...

Okay, Steve, I can only assume because I am about ten years older than you then that is the reason that I know none of these playground slurs. (10/10 for clumsy sentence construction)

I wonder what the current load of insults are.

Steve said...

FF: the only thing I know of is "gay" used where we would have said "lame". I think "loser" is also a common occurrence. Our kids have been horribly Americanized.

Fran said...

I love the way the kids hold their fingers up to their foreheads in an 'L' shape to call someone a loser. So economical. I remember der-brain, or just 'der!'

Mark said...

I've tried but can't think of any from my school - but that's probably because I'm getting old.

Steve said...

Fran: I know, the creators of British Sign Language must be so proud...!

Mark:... or you just attended a better class of school.

missbehaving said...

Hilarious and thanks for bring wassock back to mind, pranite? not sure we had that or der-brain, but wassock yes.
I still do blow on my nails and polish on my jumper and my kids do it too, because, well, because I'm stuck in a timewarp.

Steve said...

MissBehaving: wassock is like a rare, beautiful bird that is seen and heard far too infrequently. I am a wassock spotter and it makes my day to spot one.

Suburbia said...

Hear it here too! (Don't remember 'pranite')

Love his script :)

The Sagittarian said...

Bugger, never heard 'wassock' or any of its variations... I shall however get it used this week!

Steve said...

Suburbia: I think Steven Moffat better watch his back.

Amanda: thank you in advance for your help in making "wassock" a truly global phenomenon.

Joe Bloggs said...

Durbrain Scholastic, aka as The Grange, was a bit more foward... or praps I wus just a backwoods fancy pansy from Pornobaconland... but apart from us jollyold mates (the swotting bumchums wot dunwanna fight) the languish was far more coarse and frettinin as far as I recoil: Oiya bleedin poncey pillac, ooze yer movver ya farking idjit, etc. etc. Oh well, boisterous swill be boisterous I spose. Lit'ral like, yerh.

absurdoldbird said...

Dunno about pranite, I remember wassock and prannock (probably different spellings... do phonetic thingies have any correct spellings?) but der-brain? Er...

Steve said...

Joe: sounds like you were in the school on the wrong side of the tracks and the bad end of town. You were mucking it with the brutes and the barbarians.

Absurdoldbird: prannock is a new one one me - sounds like a wassock and pranite combo!

Readily A Parent said...

I grew up in a decidly unintelligent community. Even in their insults they were pretty boring. Most were plays on your name. As Dara I become Duh-ara. Or Dara Barrett sucked on a carrot (which had some sexual overtones, I believe).
I do remember the phrase someone was "all that and a bag of chips" which become changed in so many directions "all that and a burger too" etc etc.
Mostly we called people baywops if they were sort of hick stupid.
Although I did introduce "bugger" to my elementary school populations

Steve said...

Readily A Parent: "all that and a bag of chips" I just think is divine. Very funny indeed... will definitely be using that one at work this week at the earliest possible opportunity. ;-)

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

How did I end up back here? Must have entered a vortex or something. Anyway, I remember my brother using der-brain here in rural NZ back in the mid 1970s. Being Me remembers it in Oz. Can't help wondering if it started Downunder. Not one of our greatest exports eh. I went to the same school as my bro but never used language like that. Guess I'd be called gay these days.

Steve said...

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden: der-brain has so much more class... just for sheer inventiveness and creativity.