How offensive is the word pikey?

Today on the Radio 1 breakfast show Orlando Bloom, a British actor famous for playing  Legolas in Lord of the Rings, and paddle boarding nude with his then girlfriend Katie Perry, said “I’m still a pikey from Kent, you don’t want to get on the wrong side of me.”

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Firstly Orlando Bloom went to England’s oldest private school and his dad owned a language school. Secondly the word pikey is highly offensive.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, its first use in print was in the Times in 1837, referring to strangers who had come to the Isle of Sheppey island to harvest. Later that century it meant a “turnpike traveller” or vagabond. But in more recent years it has become a term of abuse and in the eyes of the law using it can even be deemed a racist offence, given its association with Irish travellers and Roma Gypsies. In December 2007, at Lewes Magistrates’ Court, Lee Coleman, 28, admitted using racially-aggravated threatening words and behaviour after a row with a nightclub manageress. He had told her: “I’m not paying you, pikey.” Charlotte Brewer, Oxford University lexicographer, says the OED clearly labels it as an offensive term that came from the word “pike” meaning a road on which a toll is collected.

The BBC have been forced to apologise for Orlando Bloom’s use of the word. It is not the first time broadcasters have got in trouble for presenters or guests using the word. In 2008 Martin Brundle the Formula 1 commentator said: “There are some pikeys out there putting down new tarmac at Turn 10. Are they out of the way yet?” Whereas in 2015 the BBC defended then Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson for his use of the word Pikey in a long running gag with Richard Hammond.

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Slang expert Tony Thorne says “pikey” was being used as far back as the 16th Century but has only become more offensive in the mainstream in the past four or five years.
“Teenagers have been using it for the last few years to replace ‘chav’. It’s used pejoratively as someone who is sub-proletariat like ‘gypsy’ or ‘gyppo’ was used in the 1940s and 50s.” Pejoratively means expressing contempt or disapproval, and sub-proletariat means working-class people all together (often used with reference to Marxism).

My advice? Don’t use the word. It has far too many offensive qualities. It is better to steer clear of.

 

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