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The word twat has various functions. It is a vulgar synonym for the human vulva, but is more widely used as a derogatory epithet, especially in British English. The word may originate from Old Norse þveit meaning cut, slit, or forest clearing.
Its meaning was in reality the same then as now, Browning's misconception probably having arisen from a line in a 1660 satirical poem, Vanity of Vanities:
Although sometimes used as a reference to the female genitalia, the word twat is more often used in various other ways:
In August 2008, the publisher of a children's book, My Sister Jodie by Jacqueline Wilson, decided to reprint the word twat as twit in future editions of the novel so as not to offend readers or their parents.
In a radio interview on 29 July 2009, the leader of the British Conservative Party, David Cameron apologized for any offence caused after he used the word twat on live radio during a breakfast radio show interview on Absolute Radio:
The trouble with Twitter, the instantness of it – too many twits might make a twat.
He attempted to play down the incident, and added: "I was doing a radio interview and I'm sure that people will understand that."