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If everything offensive was made illegal, nothing would be legal.

"I've never reported anyone to the police for calling me a name. I'm an adult."

Should insults be banned?

What is an insult?

An insult is firstly and fore-mostly a form of critical opinion.


A disrespectful or scornfully abusive remark or action  

Wider definition

  • If an insult is funny, would that make it acceptable?
  • Unintentional insults (When you put your feet up to rest them, are you supposed to know that a passing Oriental stranger may regard that as insulting?) (If a French person describes an English farm labourer as a peasant, are they expected to know that such a term can be insulting to the English? )
  • Is if an insult is accurate, is it still an insult? (e.g letting someone know that they smell)
  • Is it truly possible to insult a whole race, religion or creed ?


Insults are a form of criticism

  • Difference between insulting someone and criticising them
  • There is a difference between intentionally insulting people and having others take offense at something you've said. (Being too sensitive).

Types of insults

Types of insults

The case for banning insults

What is wrong with insults?

Rowan Atkinson on insults


What to do about insults

Arguments against insults

  • Insults can hurt people.
    If hurting is the problem why not simply ban people hurting other people then? 
  • Insults are negative
    Insults are negative feedback. Feedback is very important to the way we live our lives, especially negative feedback. Why not just ban negativity then.

The case against banning insults

 In 1986, section five of the Public Order Act made it illegal to engage in "insulting words or behaviour" in England and Wales

Right to offend/insult, or right not to be put upon?

  • Does the insulted person accept that others have a right to insult?
  • If you read the United Nations Charter, Article 28 states that "every person is entitled to their own opinion". Is this a solid enough defence to be able to insult anyone?
  • Offensive comments of which can not be described as threatening in the criminal sense give the police have no legitimate function in investigating them.
  • The use of the word offensive is a dangerously elastic term.
  • Certain types of offence-giving are singled out in a haphazard manner, and certain groups of offendees are given privileged status

But the strongest of all the arguments against the interference of the public with purely personal conduct, is that when it does interfere, the odds are that it interferes wrongly, and in the wrong place. But there is no parity between the feeling of a person for his own opinion, and the feeling of another who is offended at his holding it; no more than between the desire of a thief to take a purse, and the desire of the right owner to keep it.

   --  Stuart Mill

"I may not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it". Voltaire
"If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all"

When people insult others, they try to hurt their feelings or offend them. Isn't that the point of doing it?

The rules on niceness are applied partially (larger part of argument, should we legislating for niceness). The problem is that the law doesn't apply objectivity it is based on the subjective feelings of the 'victim'

When someone claims that something is offensive they are asking us to agree that they have been harmed. 
If someone is making a claim about harm I think it is reasonable that they should provide evidence to support their claim.  Not just their opinion or feelings. 

Who is at blame the insulter or insulted?

Is it the fault of the person claiming to be insulted, or the person doing the insulting?


What if a bad driver almost causes an accident, would it be alright to insult them to make them realise how serious their bad driving is and that it is not socially acceptable? Was the insulter provoked or should they be prosecuted?


People argue, people insult each other, in many arguments all parties insult each other. How do you single out who gets prosecuted?

Quote 873

But there is no parity between the feeling of a person for his own opinion, and the feeling of another who is offended at his holding it; no more than between the desire of a thief to take a purse, and the desire of the right owner to keep it. And a person's taste is as much his own peculiar concern as his opinion or his purse.

   --  John Stuart Mill

Offence is a choice

If someone chooses to take offence at someone else's remarks, that is their decision. In a free and open society nobody has the right to special protection from hearing or reading things they do not like. My freedom of speech comes at the price of accepting that of others.

While it is intentionally causing offence is unquestionably wrong, I think it is equally wrong to take offence where none is intended or warranted.


People that don't have the strength of character to resist an insult deserve to be house-bound. It's your choice alone to venture out into the wider world, with all the risks that entails.

It is said we should protect vulnerable people. Indeed we should. But people who can't bear to hear a full range of opinion including vile (but non threatening) insults directed at their most cherished beliefs, people and thoughts, shouldn't be voting, on juries, or holding public office. You can be an adult or a child, but not both.

Communication skills

The fact people insult probably has more to do with a lack of diplomacy skills than anything else. Can someone be responsible if they are not educated how to express themselves.

These affect people in different ways

What is acceptable can vary,
  • A person can laugh off something as fun one minute then really take it heart the next.
  • Something that would not offend one person might be deeply offensive to another
  • Sometimes it's not what you say it is how you say it. 
  • It is claimed that most communication is non verbal, do insults then include body language?
  • Can you insult someone when they are no present? Even if they hear about the insult later.
  • The insulted may not feel insulted, but someone who overhears the insult may feel offended.
People in general are too quick to be offended nowadays. As the famous Groucho said in a day at the races.
Flo: "Why, I've never been so insulted in my life!"
Groucho: "Well, it's early yet."

The problem here is how does one define the boundaries of what is offensive/abusive. The current 'definition' is rather 'loose'.

Buddha sat for an hour as a man ranted and hurled insults at him.
Finally exhausted the man asked buddha why he had not responed.
Buddha replied "If I offer you an apple and you do not take it whose is the apple?"

Is the person who is being ridiculed insecure about their beliefs?

Over dramatisation

Is it just a case of human beings take themselves far too seriously? Should the old nursery rhyme about sticks and stones apply?
News reports are full of false offence with sayings like 'I felt sick when I heard that'. That's not true, they are being over dramatic.

Free speech

Can we not enshrine into law an obligation not to be gratuitously offended?
Can it ever be wrong to express one's opinion in a society advocating free speech?

"necessary balance between the right to freedom of expression and the right of others to not be harassed, alarmed or distressed".

For example it's fine to want tighter immigration laws; it's not fine to run around shouting "muslims go home" and hurling abuse at them outside every mosque.

Minority of idiots is the price we pay for free speech.
Tatchell believes accepting such displays from a small minority is the price of liberty for all. "Freedom of speech is for everyone, including people we disagree with," he adds

Free speech is something that we have fought and lost lives for, and that includes mocking words and ridicule. If a Christian or Muslim is offended by a person mocking his "God" then he is insecure about his beliefs, if we are going down that route of banning insults and hurtful words i look forward to the Koran and Bible being banned from the UK.


For a stand up comedian, anything is fair game. The reason for this is you can never really be sure if the comedian means what they say, although there has to be an element of truth to the insult to be funny.

White lies

We are brought up to always tell the truth but most of us realise as we get older that tact and decency often lead to white lies. But these white lies are not legislated.


If I called Clive Anderson a bald headed **** he would be able to defend himself. If I went outside the Christie and did the same to a woman being treated for cancer it's unlikely she would be in an emotional state to do so.Same insult but one should rightly result in some sort of legal action. It all comes down to common sense but can our legal system cope with this?

Selected victims

There are quite clearly many groups that are considered "fair game" for insults - politicians, bankers, many religious groups

Should it be illegal to able to insult people?

The formation of sounds seems a ludicrous thing to regard as criminal. Words are .......wind!
However words are tools and real damage can be wrought from them. Words cease being wind when others feel the effects.

Negative effects can be:
  • Harasment
  • Threats/intimidation
  • Incitement to violence
  • Provocation
  • Loss of authority
  • Distress
  • Annoyance
It is the fact that insults can hurt people that the government feels that it should step in. But should government be there to protect us from every type of interaction? Does the level of harm justify the administration and turning most the population into criminals. Is there anyone in society that does need to be wrapped up in cotton wool? Does this mean we should be treading on egg shells to accommodate them.

Hate crimes criminalise Free speech. We all have a gender, race religion , sexual preference, so every crime is a crime against a race, religion, etc. a crime, is a crime.


The law is unworkable

You cannot legislate for being insulted as what constitutes an insult? The best way to deal with it is to just shrug it off and move on.

The law is redundant

Insulting someone once is one thing. But if you insult someone a second time you can be prosecuted under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. All the person has to do is say to the police that the words used caused distress and they'll do the rest. So there's more than one law they can invoke!

Accusing someone of doing something they haven't is covered by libel/slander laws. So we're talking about opinion only here. 

One man's insult is another's accurate if colourful depiction. We should have laws against intimidation, not against insult – as the politicians that crafted this demi-brained law should have realised. Generally, where there is little substance behind a jibe it will be rather toothless. And to be insulted by someone you think is an idiot is surely a compliment?

The law already protects people against discrimination, threats and incitement to violence.

Some countries its illegal and not others

Indeed, in Scotland "threatening and abusive" behaviour is outlawed by Section 38 of the Criminal Justice and Licencing Act 2010 but insults are not.

Legislating social norms

Not every 'social norm' needs to be enshrined in law. The fact that I have just committed a criminal offence saying this makes a mockery of what it means to be a 'criminal'. 

Such offensive speech should rightly meet with public opprobium but it should be lawful. The state should have no control over what you say.

Perverse effects

Perhaps celebrity judges could be charged for insulting talent show hopefuls if made insults made illegal.
Such consequences can make this a dangerous law indeed.
The fact it could be a crime for insulting a religion is positively medieval. The law on this is pathetic, its inconsistent and a waste of time.

I have thought, for some time now, how we have reached the worst kind of situation. Certain insults are now considered unacceptable by the 'it' crowd who are more 'tuned up' compared to other, less informed, mortals. They fail to realise that they have inadvertently become a fashion police and are themselves influenced by a desire to fit in. In a decade's time their views will also seem outmoded.

The law isn't there "to protect vulnerable people": it's there to enable them to exaggerate the "distress" they've felt at being called names and claim thousands in compensation, much of which then lines lawyer's pockets. The rest of us learn to get over insults before we've left school.

The problem, as I see it, is that certain groups of people WANT to offended by anything that is said; however innocent. "Discrimination is the new witchcraft".

It is about time this law was taken off the books, it doesn`t protect anyone and it stifles lively debate as well as potentially criminalising a large proportion of society.

What would be next Thoughtcrime?

Have we really sunk to such depths that all people are concerned with is whether they are still able to insult others?
No, we have sunk to the depths where some people believe they have a god given right not to ever be insulted or offended.


Interestingly, It looks like if we stand across the border in sight or hearing of each other, hurling insults, the person on the English side will be committing a crime, if and then on the Scottish side will not.
How absurd is that?

Possibly the easiest way to judge it is whenther it is a repeated event then yes throw the book at them. But what if it was a one off event? What if it was a one off event from someone under the influence of drugs or intoxification. What if the person has learning difficulties etc.who is giving the abuse. What if it is what in law is classed as a minor?

I believe that nonsense laws like this exist as a last resort (insurance policy), and catch-all, so that officers of 'the law' can remove pretty much anyone they want in almost any situation and then point to ridiculous law #829501 as justification.

Joanne Mason "I am a trans-gendered woman and experience abuse on the streets"
Agreed. It's all about who has the power and organisation to demand laws. E.G. most fat people will if asked recount daily incidents of abuse which if leveled against most other groups would constitute hate speech. I'm wary of designating 'protected classes' because it implies that those not covered are 'fair game'.

Taking offence cannot be equated to being criminally victimised. There is no real attempt to apply legal sanctions across the board. Rather, certain types of offence-giving are singled out in a haphazard manner, and certain groups of offendees are given privileged status.

Insulting without insulting

A footballer was awarded a free kick against him for a foul. He said to the ref, "That was a poor decision ref. What would you say if I called you a tw*t?" The ref replied saying he would have to send him off for bad language. So the footballer said 'Would you send me off if I just thought you were a tw*t?" No said the referee. "Well", said the footballer, I think you are a tw*t!"


Any public argument would be illegal. So the application of the law is left to the interpretation (see bias) of the officer in question. The law needs to change

Squeaky wheels

The problem as I see it is that a small number of very vocal people have discovered if they complain enough about being insulted they can get the law changed so that people they don't like are effectively gagged. This feels more like yet another law made to allow innocent people to be arrested when no real crime has been committed..


The Criminal Justice System has been commandeered by the PC brigade to further their multiculturalist agenda, to make Britain safe for the diverse migrants who settle here without their need to take account of the indigenous population & traditions

Vested interest

The police could probably do without the extra workload, Keeps lawyers employed. .

"But it's not them the law is there to protect - it's there to protect vulnerable people" Isn't the law there to protect everyone? Who precisely are 'vulnerable' people? Surely we all know that almost anyone can be bullied on any basis imaginable. It's the bullying that's the issue, not the personal parameters of the victim. This isn't something that exclusively happens to pre-selected groups.