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Words: Arrogant

The Lord Chancellor has been widely accused of arrogance after boasting of his intimacy with Tony Blair. Earl Spencer has also been arrogant, in the view of the media, in his treatment of his Countess. And John le Carre has called Salman Rushdie a "self-canonising arrogant colonialist", for reasons that are not clear. Arrogance may soon overtake hypocrisy as top people's favourite sin.

In Latin rogare was to ask; with an ad- attached it meant to ask for, or stake, a legal claim. But the English "to arrogate" has always meant to make an unjustified claim, and even in Latin arrogans meant presumptuous. No doubt this reflects human nature - we assume people are more likely to make false claims than genuine ones.

Anyway to be arrogant is to have ideas above one's station, like lord chancellors claiming more political clout than they're entitled to; le Carre would justify his insult by saying Rushdie aspires to be a saint when he's not. Earl Spencer looks like the odd man out, having behaved worse than earls are supposed to, so his ideas are below his station, not above.

But what really outaged people was the difference between the earl's appearance in church and the evidence in court. Here arrogant gets fuzzy, which is rather a shame. You can now apply it to anyone who humiliates others, or is any sort of loudmouth or bully. In sport it can simply mean self-confidence. A Sunday Telegraph man recently wrote approvingly of the "arrogance" of the Springboks, and someone on the Mail praised the "skill and arrogance" of a New Zealand forward.

Meanwhile Jonathan Freedland may have got it right when he wrote in the Guardian that "the real problem with the Lord Chancellor is not the arrogance of the man, it's the arrogance of the job." Perhaps it's too much subservience that breeds arrogance.

Nicholas Bagnall