BBC rejects complaint against Laura Kuenssberg for saying ‘nitty gritty’

Anthony France
·2-min read
 (PA)
(PA)

The BBC has rejected a complaint against Laura Kuenssberg for using the phrase “nitty-gritty”, which anti-racism campaigners claim originates from the slave trade.

The broadcaster’s political editor used the term while speaking on an episode of the Brexitcast podcast about the departure of top Downing Street press chief Lee Cain.

The remark sparked a complaint from a listener, which was initially dismissed by programme makers and then escalated to the corporation's executive complaints unit, which has now found in Ms Kuenssberg's favour.

The term “nitty-gritty” was reportedly banned by Sky Sports last year over the concerns about its origins - which are disputed by some linguistics experts.

The Times claims the ruling is the corporation’s latest shift away from so-called wokery under new director-general Tim Davie.

Tim Davie took over from Lord Hall as BBC director general in September David Parry /PA
Tim Davie took over from Lord Hall as BBC director general in September David Parry /PA

One of his first acts was to reverse the decision not to sing Rule, Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory at the Last Night of the Proms.

He has also pushed to end the dominance of left-wing comedy on BBC TV and radio and overseen strict new social media guidelines that ban staff from “virtue signalling” online.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, nitty-gritty means: “The fundamentals, realities or basic facts of a situation or subject. The heart of the matter.”

The OED said that the word can be traced back to at least 1940 and originated in the United States in African-American usage.

It was included on a list of phrases to be avoided by sports commentators at a diversity briefing attended by hundreds of BBC, Sky, BT Sport and ITV staff last summer.

They were told to use alternatives such as “the basic facts” on the grounds that nitty-gritty is thought to have referred to the detritus found in the bottom of transatlantic slave ships.

But language researcher Gary Martin, of the phrases.org.uk website, investigated the expression and said: “There is no evidence to support the suggestion that ‘nitty-gritty’ has any connection with slave ships.

diary LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 12:  A member of the public walk outside the BBC headquarters at New Broadcasting House on November 12, 2012 in London, England. Tim Davie has been appointed the acting Director General of the BBC following the resignation of George Entwistle after the broadcasting of an episode of the current affairs programme 'Newsnight' on child abuse allegations which contained errors.Peter Macdiarmid/Getty
diary LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 12: A member of the public walk outside the BBC headquarters at New Broadcasting House on November 12, 2012 in London, England. Tim Davie has been appointed the acting Director General of the BBC following the resignation of George Entwistle after the broadcasting of an episode of the current affairs programme 'Newsnight' on child abuse allegations which contained errors.Peter Macdiarmid/Getty

“It may have originated in the USA as an African-American expression, but that's as near as it gets to slavery.”

The Standard approached the BBC for comment on the decision not to uphold the complaint.

Ms Kuenssberg was talking about Cain’s resignation as director of communications in November when she remarked: “Before we get into the nitty gritty for saddo nerds like us who are fascinated by all this soap opera...”