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The Independent Online
The European Court is to be asked whether a man ought to have smacked his 12-year-old stepson. That is what the reports say. But they also tell us that the stepfather in question used a cane, which is a different matter. Smack sounds very much like a euphemism, and one can understand why people prefer it. They think it disgraceful that lawyers, and foreign ones at that, should interfere with the rights of parents to raise children in their own way, so long as they don't knock them about too much; and surely there's nothing much wrong with a smack? Midwives smack babies when they come into the world, do they not? Such a thing can be positively loving, a sign of a warm human relationship.

Smack is the mildest in a whole hierarchy of words for chastisement, milder even than a perhaps painful slap from the back of the hand. Smack's other meanings, all onomatopoeic, help it too. Slap can be happily coupled with tickle, but what's kinder or more friendly, for example, than a smacking kiss? Next up the scale is cuff, excused by some on the ground that they have seen she-cats doing it to their kittens. Then comes beat, followed, in ascending order of brutality, by wallop, thrash, flog and flay. Others (caning, whacking) have a gown-and-mortarboard flavour to them. (Why do the English have so many words for all this?)

The children's rights movement has stuck pretty firmly to beat, which is in the moderate middle of the range. They have the sense to know that to go further up it would colour their argument, and give it the same sort of bias, but in the opposite direction, as newspapers have plainly shown by their use of smack.

Nicholas Bagnall