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The word twat is vulgar slang for the human vulva, but is more widely used as a derogatory epithet, especially in British English, referring to a person considered obnoxious or stupid. It is also used informally as a verb in British English to mean to hit or punch a person. 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 arose from a line in a 1660 satirical poem, Vanity of Vanities:
It is commonly thought that a "twat" is a noun to describe a pregnant goldfish.[dead link] However a goldfish can't be impregnated and this definition of the word has never appeared in a respectable dictionary.
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 after receiving three complaints
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."
For the purposes of film certification, usage of the word is not considered as serious as many other swear words. For example, the film Kes has been certified PG in the United Kingdom, meaning: "All ages admitted, but certain scenes may be unsuitable for young children. Should not disturb children aged 8 years or over", despite more than one instance of the word. It also is not on the list of the Seven dirty words made famous by George Carlin in his 1972 monologue "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television".