Belfast Telegraph

Nazi insult has lost its meaning

By Ellen E Jones

What do Russian president Vladimir Putin and Baz the Cat have in common? Both were last week compared with Hitler – with consequences far beyond the insult's initial sting. Poor Baz, who has fur-markings above his lip resembling a toothbrush moustache, was found beaten and left for dead in a dustbin.

His owner believes the attack was motivated by the cat's unfortunate resemblance to the Nazi leader.

Meanwhile, Prince Charles is enduring his own stint in diplomacy's dustbin, after likening Putin's annexation of Crimea to Hitler's expansionism.

In the past, Putin has endured unflattering comparisons, but it is only this latest insult that has sparked a diplomatic crisis.

In defence of Putin, Russia's outraged media chose to attack. Pravda cited the Nazi sympathies of Edward VIII (Charles's great-uncle) and reminded its readers of Prince Harry's decision to wear a Nazi uniform to a fancy dress party in 2005.

It is no mystery why these words have evolved into all-purpose insults.

Whatever their differences, the countries that fought in the Second World War have always had one point of common consensus: Hitler's Nazis were a pretty unsavoury bunch. It's no mystery, then, that Nazi and fascist have lost their original meaning.

The online version of the Oxford English Dictionary defines "fascism" as, specifically, "An authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organisation" and "Nazi" as "a person with extreme racist or authoritarian views".

In practice, however, these terms are used to refer to all of the above, plus the flight attendant who charges you for excess baggage.

Fascists should be called out as fascists – especially since many far-Right parties now seek to repackage their ideology.

But for these terms to be of any real use as political criticism, they have to retain a specific meaning.

Unfortunately, the overuse of the Nazi jibe has given it its own special place in the lexicon of rude words.

This is an insult both trite and shocking – and, therefore, ultimately meaningless.

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