IT IS just a letter away from one of the strongest swear words in the English language. But watchdogs today decided the word "feck" can be included in an advertising campaign.
The term – made famous by the popular 1990s television comedy Father Ted – has been used in posters promoting Magners cider, in which a man tells bees to "feck off".
The company immediately received complaints from irate members of the public who were concerned that children would see the advert.
But the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has now ruled the poster is suitable for display.
In its defence, Magners said that the man in the advert is not using an expletive but merely a "mild rebuff" to the bees.
The company said that, despite the Father Ted usage, the word has been in use in Ireland since the early 1800s and can mean "to steal", "to throw" or "to leave hastily".
Magners said: "The claim 'feck off bees' was not intended to offend, but was intended to be true to the storyteller, an orchard keeper in his 60s, and was merely a mild rebuff to the bees. The image was meditative and did not seek to be upsetting in any way."
The ASA said the phrase is suitable to be used in public. The regulators said: "The use of the word 'feck' in Britain has been popularised by TV programmes such as Father Ted. We considered that the tone of the ad was not aggressive or threatening. The term 'feck' was unlikely to be seen as a swear word."
The ASA said that the use of the word would not offend adults and was not unsuitable to be seen by children either.
However, they were quick to say that other adverts containing the words would be judged on a "case-by-case basis".
An ASA spokesman said: "This is not a precedent-setting decision and I certainly hope that this does not start a free-for-all with advertisers thinking they can use this all the time. If it was an advert featuring a hoody or contained threatening behaviour then the outcome may well have been very different."
Experts said that the use of the word is simply a euphemism for deliberate swearing.
Dr Ian Williamson, a linguistics expert from Edinburgh University, said: "People may well get offended by this advert as the use of the word 'feck' appears to be a euphemism for the F-word.
"Because of its cultural origins the word may not be offensive in Ireland, but it may well cause offence to those in Britain. In this instance Magners are using the word in a playful way, as they are perhaps making a reference to the common usage of the word in Father Ted, but people may be upset."
Glasgow secondary school teacher Hugh Reilly said he was surprised the advert would be allowed to remain in public. He said: "There is a fairly tolerant view of social swearing where children swear among themselves. If this is overheard children would normally just receive a warning to cut it out.
"However, any swearing in a hostile manner is a much more serious matter in schools.
"If a child said 'feck off' to a teacher this would be taken extremely seriously as it is the same as saying 'f-off'."
Jules Macken, Magners GB Brand Manager, said: "At Magners we take the greatest care to ensure that we adhere to the ASA Code of Practice. We are obviously delighted, although not surprised, that this judgment has been reviewed and that the ad has received the ASA approval."
THE word "feck" dates back the 1500s, when it was used in Scotland to mean "effect" – the opposite of the modern day word "feckless", meaning weak.
It can also mean "amount", "quantity" or "value".
In Ireland, "feck" originally derived from the word "feic" which meant "to see".
Robert Burns used the word in his 1792 poem Kellyburn Braes, and Robert Lewis Stevenson included it in his 1881 short story Thrawn Janet.
James Joyce used the word to mean "to steal" in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: "They had fecked cash out of the rector's room."
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