We need to talk about “fuckpigs”. As a piece of swearing in its own right, it’s pretty low tier – it sounds like a piece of dialogue in a third-rate mob movie about the clientele of a run-down brothel.
Where it does – or at least should – look out of place is in any remotely functional workplace. And so the fact it’s the standout swearword from what turn out to be profanity-laced work WhatsApp messages from Boris Johnson’s Number 10 is just embarrassing. That this particular epithet was in a message to the prime minister from his chief of strategy, Dominic Cummings, is outright mortifying. In evidence given at the Covid inquiry, it emerged that Cummings had indeed used the term.
The first reason it’s embarrassing is the least important, but the one that most makes my toes curl: it feels like an amateur theatre group has tried to put on an unlicensed sequel to The Thick Of It. Compound swearing is almost always foul: not for nothing is “cockwomble” now shorthand for a widely-misliked twee subgroup of centre-left “resistance” social media.
This particular form of it feels like the author thought The Thick Of It was aspirational, and its cast the mark of good governance, rather than a group of dysfunctional and miserable nerds trying to perform hypermasculinity. Cummings and co came to government too late to have been the inspirations for the comedy drama – they are instead its deeply unintended product.
That, though, is hardly a matter of importance. The real thing that will strike most of us who take a look at the Number 10 texts is this: you talk to your boss like that?! My career has been in newsrooms, which are hardly known for their primness, and I would not use “fuckpigs” in a message to my boss to describe my co-workers.
If I did, I would expect at the minimum to have the bollocking of a lifetime, and that’s if they were feeling lenient. It is not the mark of a functional team to set out – in formats you have been told time and again are discoverable by courts, inquiries, freedom of information requests, and more – exactly what you think of co-workers in such lax terms.
The small stuff tends to signal what will happen with the bigger things. The messages here show a total disregard for the norms of a workplace and for the propriety of working for a senior governmental office.
In it lay the seeds of impropriety on a far grander scale – starting with Dominic Cummings dashing across the country in flagrant contravention of rules he thought his boss was too stupid to understand, clearly thinking the same of the country at large.
It was then displayed across the seemingly endless Number 10 parties, and in perhaps the most serious way in the casual callousness with which Johnson referred to the preventable deaths of tens of thousands of people under his watch.
“Fuckpigs” tells us far more about the sender than about the people to whom it is intended to refer. It’s a one-word pen portrait. Sadly for Dominic Cummings, it is anything but flattering. I’m sure he has some coinage to put together as to what he thinks about that, of course – it’s just there’s no-one left who cares to hear it.