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Monstering

Q From Marcus Laker: This week’s edition of Have I Got News For You [a British humorous television quiz programme] showed a picture of Bill Gates tragically having a custard pie thrust in his face. Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, described him as having been monstered. Other members of the panel commented on the usage; none of them seemed to have heard it before. Neither had I. Would you comment?

A I saw that programme and was interested to hear the word in that sense. It’s fairly common in media circles in the UK, though the Third Additions Volume of the OED says it originated in Australia in the sixties.

In British usage it usually refers to a “dressing down” or harangue given by a superior to a junior, and so is similar to that low British slang term, bollocking. As Tony Thorne says in his Dictionary of Contemporary Slang, it “occurs predominantly in middle-aged usage in a professional context”. Here’s a typical example, from the Guardian in 1995: “A new book, delivering the Reith Lectures, you name it — this would have been a fairy tale year for Marina Warner had it not been for the beastly monstering she was given by some critics”. But it can have a broader sense of hassling or pestering somebody, as in this example from 1996: “Fleet Street is split over last week’s ‘monstering’ of a weeping Princess Di by paparazzi”. Interestingly, this sense of the word is given by the OED as its main one. No British dictionary I’ve looked at agrees (and that includes the New Oxford Dictionary of English) and it’s notable that all the OED’s examples are from Australian sources, the last in 1993.

So it would seem that the word was imported into Britain in the sense of “to criticise vigorously”, and has only recently started to take on the broader sense. That may be why the panel did a double-take, as it’s not probable that a group of British media-savvy personalities would be unfamiliar with the word.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 31 Oct. 1998

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 31 October 1998.