Poms deprived of the right to whinge

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Poms, stop your whingeing. The age-old insult meted out to Britons by Australians (or Skippies, as we like to say when hurling back slang in return) is no longer derogatory, but a term of endearment.

Yesterday, the President of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Sir Ronald Wilson, ruled that "pom" and "pommy" were unlikely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate.

Sir Ronald was dismissing a complaint - presumably from a whingeing pom - against the Courier-Mail newspaper in Brisbane.

However, he said he could imagine, "albeit with some difficulty", that the words could be unlawful in the context of an article which was plainly malicious or scurrilous.

The term "pom" has a variety of origins, depending on who you talk to. Some say it came from the red, pomegranate hue that British First World War soldiers turned in the desert sun. Others believe it came from the initials of "Prisoner of Mother England", referring to the English convicts sent to Australia in the 1700s and 1800s.

The Oxford English Dictionary is clear about its inference. "Pom" is Australian and New Zealand slang (usu. derog.), it says, above a description of the same word as "dried and powdered cooked potato".

Australians may have lost a popular insult yesterday but those who really want to vent their anger on intruders from the UK can of course revert to another age-old favourite - "whingeing bath-dodgers".

When Britons arrive Down Under they are unused to the heat and continue, so the fable goes, to bathe only infrequently compared to their antipodean cousins.

One Skippy in Britain, Jonno Coleman, award-winning DJ at Virgin radio, and Sydney-sider, said "pom" was now considered a "badge of honour" rather than an insult.

"Poms are proud of it. It's better than 'wogs' - the name the Greeks or Italians get given by the Australians," he said.

"Mind you, the Greeks are so used to it now that when a group of them set up a theatre company they called it Wogs out of Work."