Captain Moonlight's Notebook: Debut of the British Binkie

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The Independent Online
LORD CAITHNESS, the minister of shipping, swam into our ken last week and towed in his wake the word binkie as a generic term for people like himself - youngish, hereditary and sometimes impoverished peers who attend the House of Lords. I sought a history of the word and regret to report that the only reference which staff at the Oxford English Dictionary could find came under the word 'gaga'.

While not particularly complimentary to the man whose job it is to protect the Shetlands (and the rest of us for that matter) from wayward oil tankers, it is preferable to the word's meaning in the United States. There, a binkie or binky made its first appearence as a 'mechanical contrivance' in 1912 and by 1968 had ended up as 'human buttocks'. Its use was recorded in Britain in 1986 by the language magazine Verbatim, which defined one as a fool or blockhead. The 'gaga' reference in the OED, though, pins the term firmly to the upper classes and refers to a Woosterish conversation in a book called Ancestor Jorico by a William Locke, published in 1929.

'Why did he leave the half a million to his son in his will?' Mr Locke has his character ask.

'Gaga, my dear Binkie, just gaga.'

Today, says a journalist acquaintance familiar with new political terms, 'binkies are those chaps who wouldn't have got far in politics if they hadn't inherited a peerage'.

Malcolm Sinclair inherited the earldom of Caithness and little else. He had to buy the family seat when he was in his twenties: two ruined and uninhabitable 13th- and 14th-century castles, which the Caithness District Council considers to be extremely dangerous structures. If the council had its way, according to Robert Ferguson, Director of Environmental Health and Master of Works, it would bulldoze them over the cliff into Sinclair's Bay.

Is the owner of these ruins gaga? Let's just say that his appearances on television last week revealed a refreshingly unpolished politician and brought out the kinder side of that Jeremy Paxman.