Facebook users in the UK have been mistakenly taken for homophobes after the social media site has decided their love of faggots, a famed English recipe, is a problem. Facebook may not like faggots, but lots of British people do. They love them. Faggots are a delicacy. Perhaps not in some gourmands eyes, but to the carnivores of the British Isles, these meatballs are marvelous. The word has this primary definition in British English, and is not the derogatory slur and slang word that is has evolved into in American English.
To the sensitive stomach, the ingredients list may not instantly sound appealing. Faggots are traditionally made with offal, that is, the inner organs of a beast, usually pork, such as hearts and livers. In other words, the bits of an animal that do not normally feature center stage on your dinner plate. It is not that surprising that Facebook does not like them. They were then, like Scottish haggis, supposed to be wrapped in the sac of a bladder, but these days, they tend to use sausage casing. It certainly is not everybody’s cup of tea, but to faggot lovers, they are worth all the tea in China. Butchers who still hand-make them are sought after and revered.
Across the Atlantic, the word faggot has an entirely different meaning, and this is where a spot of cross-cultural confusion has set in. A gentleman who decided to declare his fondness for the faggot had his Facebook account blocked for 12 hours. The chap in question had no intention of referring to anybody’s sexuality, he was just talking about his champion choice of meal. Robert Wilkes, who had also posted a photo of his foodie fave, was barred from the social network for his brazen choice of menu. He had no intention of casting aspersions on his fellow men. He is not alone. Eileen Perkins, a fellow faggot fan, was also barred when she decided it would be a nice idea to show her Facebook friends what she was having for her supper. She uploaded a picture of the tasty treat but as she labeled it with the nomenclature with which it is known, that is to say, faggots, she got pulled off. She may like her famed English recipe for faggots, but Facebook dislikes her liking them.
Coming straight after the furor about Facebook allowing extremely graphic videos of beheadings, which caused storms of protest, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that they are becoming a little too over-sensitive about what is permissible to be seen. Admittedly, it is hard to account for taste, and in the instance of the humble faggot, well, they certainly do not tickle all taste buds. During the war, when rationing went on for many years, they became popular as a way of stretching the limited resources of meat protein available. It tends to be the older generation who retain a nostalgia and affection for the dish, served with mashed potatoes, peas and gravy. The old word, faggot, in English, actually means a bundle of sticks, used to light a fire.
In a precursor to the Facebook move, the supermarket chain Somerfield were ordered to remove a radio advert back in 2004 by the Advertising Standards Authority. In it, a man told his wife he had nothing against faggots, he just did not fancy them. Presumably, they were acting on the same instincts as Facebook regarding the language used.
These sorts of linguistic difficulties can often occur between countries, but in the digital era, it is not so easy to have the time to explain them. In Australia, the best known brand of sticky sealing tape is called Durex. In the UK, this is the best-selling brand of condom. An unwary Brit going to buy some Durex in the Land Down Under may find himself in an interesting predicament.
Facebook cannot tell the difference between those who like faggots as famed in the old English recipe, and those who do not, and thus it errs on the side of caution and sanctions the word itself. In a world programmed by algorithms and robots we may see a lot more of this. What is derogatory and slang in one language is not always the same in another.
By Kate Henderson