Tom Sutcliffe: It's time we redefined the word 'adult'

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Odd phrase "adult movies" – and one that's only been with us, according to the OED, since 1958, where the first citation comes from a New Musical Express small ad offering "unusual adult photo sets".

It takes a while for the OED to register a usage, since they insist on printed evidence, so the phrase may well have been around for 10 to 15 years before that. But roughly speaking it's only since the Second World War that our euphemism of choice for pornography has implicitly associated it with maturity of mind. And it seems likely that this was specifically tied to changes in the law regarding film certification.

Originally there were only two kinds of certificate: U and A, and although the latter alerted viewers to more grown-up content there was no suggestion that such films would be unsuitable for children. In 1932 the BBFC introduced an H certificate to identify horror films and a de facto age limit of 16 was imposed, with the H being changed to an X in 1951, to acknowledge the wider scope of what was to be shielded from young eyes.

Every other change since then has further refined the sense that what you can see on a screen will be finely graded according to exactly how far through your teenage years you have travelled, with extra doors opening at 12, 15 and 18.

What we've arrived at, it hardly needs saying, is an oxymoron – since the eager desire to watch strangers copulating – and to pay Richard Desmond for the privilege – isn't exactly a benchmark of emotional maturity. The word adult itself derives from adultus – the past participle of the Latin adolescere, to grow up. It implies, in other words, a completed process. And it's hard to square the word's promise that its bearer has now set aside childish things with the spectacle of Mr Timney at the weekend, looking like a teenager whose jazz mags have just been unearthed during an unanticipated spot of spring-cleaning.

"I am really sorry for any embarrassment caused," he said. But if the movies he had rented really had been adult in the wider sense there wouldn't have been anything like as much embarrassment.

There might have been questions about why this household felt it necessary to cough up twice over to watch Ocean's 13 (a film that isn't worth paying for once), but not the sense that the Home Secretary's husband had been puerile. If the films had been adult in the wider sense they wouldn't have been coyly listed on the bill as "additional feature". Who seeks to conceal the evidence of their adulthood?

I wouldn't want to be too pompous or priggish about this. Most of us carry a teenager within us to the grave, and there's no guaranteeing that they won't escape now and again – libidinous and curious and blithely forgetful that appetite is not always the best guide to action.

My own inner teenager is usually pretty cheerful if something titillating turns up on television or at the cinema, being far too timid (and morally fretful) to support the industry that supplies such things more reliably. But it isn't a good idea to kid ourselves at such moments that something different is going on – that we are being more grown-up rather than less so.

Whatever you want to call it – smut, erotica, explicit material – pornography is inextricably associated with immaturity, with adolescent urgencies and juvenile attitude to self-gratification. Mr Timney wasn't watching adult movies, he was watching childish ones.

T S Eliot not one for playing the fool, surely?

This is not an easy time of year for a columnist. I got quite excited the other day about the ethical wrongness of the helicopter hotel, a converted Soviet Mil V-12 designed to flit around the Caribbean with a payload of ultra-rich holiday-makers (Google "hotelicopter" if you're interested in the inaugural flight).

Then it dawned on me... Duh... that we were approaching 1 April and I had to add it to the spike alongside those reports about the Ikea branded car. So wary did I become that I initially assumed the story about T S Eliot turning down Animal Farm was just an unusually erudite spoof. I'm not committing myself until midday tomorrow, but it looks as if this one is for real – offering the delicious spectacle of a broadly conservative writer turning down the work of an avowedly left-wing one for failing to deliver the right kind of propaganda for Trotskyism.

There was something wonderful too about Eliot's suggestion that what the novel needed was "more public-spirited pigs", which is a bit like saying Macbeth might be improved by having fewer murderous central characters. I think the truth is that Eliot hated the book and was just trying to be as polite as he could, but it was a fascinating literary footnote and I hope that it doesn't evaporate within 48 hours.

I'm also keeping my fingers crossed that the cheering news that liquorice helps to keep bowel cancer at bay will make it through the week intact.

How to save the world: no TV after 11pm

We turned all the lights off in our house at 8.30 for Earth Hour last Saturday – and had dinner by candlelight. The sense that the whole house had been powered down into a resting mode was distinctly calming.

Indeed some of us round the table found ourselves getting rather nostalgic for the enforced quality time of the three-day week - when power-cuts and early television closedown forced the entire country to find their entertainment elsewhere. In fact it occurred to me that - civil liberties aside - the best way to reduce our carbon footprint might be for the state to get a lot more nannyish and simply insist on turning the television and the lights off sometimes.

No telly after 11pm so that more of us get a decent night sleep (or more sex, possibly) and one night a week when there's no broadcasting at all, so that we're encouraged to go out and do something more interesting. Book sales would increase, the beleaguered pub industry would get a boost and more of us would spend time with real friends rather than imaginary ones.

Quite impossible I know, but I think it is irrefutable that the country would be happier and more contented if it happened. Even the television we were left with would be better.

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