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Mind your language

Dodginess from Tacitus to Ed Miliband

If it doesn’t remind people of Roger the Dodger or Jammie Dodgers, the word might bring to mind Alastair Campbell’s Dodgy Dossier

21 February 2015

9:00 AM

21 February 2015

9:00 AM

‘I hate Jammie Dodgers,’ said my husband staring disdainfully at a biscuit kindly tucked into his coffee saucer at an after-church gathering. I’m glad only I heard. But the fact is that we British generally admire dodgers. Dickens came up with a fine sobriquet when he gave John Dawkins the nickname the Artful Dodger. As in real life, he was often referred to simply as the Artful. Artful of course meant ‘cunning’ or ‘deceitful’ — high praise. Earlier in the story, Mr Bumble had called Oliver Twist ‘artful and designing’, admittedly not in praise. And in The Pickwick Papers, the novel before Oliver Twist, Sam Weller calls a trick played on them by Job Trotter an ‘artful dodge’.

Dodging and dodgers had been around since the 16th century, and in 1698 the translators of the Abbé de Vallemont even called Tacitus ‘a great Dodger’ who ‘always speaks more out of Policy than according to Truth’. Today, policy is something for which there is a great clamour in the period before an election.


As for dodgers, the one who dominated the late 20th century was Roger the Dodger, in the Beano. He seems to me a poor second to Dennis the Menace, with a checked jersey in place of a hooped one. He has a presence online in company with a little black boy called Dave, who helps out in his dodges, which principally involve avoiding chores.

So it is strange that Ed Miliband is calling our own Dave, David Cameron, a ‘dodgy prime minister surrounded by dodgy donors’. If it doesn’t remind people of Roger the Dodger or Jammie Dodgers (which Burtons, the biscuit people, claim are named after him, though I’d have thought the services slang for bread or cake had a part in their history), it might call to mind the Dodgy Dossier of 2003, handed out by Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s spin doctor. (The Dodgy Dossier was not the one in September 2002 that mentioned the 45-minute threat of WMD; its dodginess came from its hurried cobbling together from published sources.) Mr Miliband has his own spin doctor, Tom Baldwin, who is not at all dodgy, though, my husband tells me, he is considered by some to be quite jammy.


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