Dear Tutters,

As a member of that commuter-crowd that pours off the trains at Victoria and trickles into the underground to begin another journey of cramped resignation, I hear the “tut” on a daily basis. We have all felt the irrational tut welling up inside, when faced with a rogue escalator user (probably one of our European cousins), riding shotgun on the right-hand side. Or perhaps after tripping over one of those inexplicably small wheelie suitcases, careering around corners with a life of its own. My personal favorite remains the person who relentlessly jabs his or her defective ticket into the barriers whilst a queue of dangerous tuts forms behind them.

But why use the “tut” when a “for fucks sake!” would probably do the same job? It’s not an easy question to answer. I believe it has much to do with the British (and particularly the London) attitude.

It is an accepted notion, and I would even go so far as to say an unspoken code, that people in the underground do not talk to one another. This can be awkward, particularly during the busiest times, when you can get closer to your fellow commuter than you’d care to be near to a close friend. Still, communication is kept to a minimum. In that dark, sweaty place you inhabit in someone’s armpit at 8:32 a.m., madness can take hold. Sudden bursts of hysteria are not uncommon. Beware then, the hapless tourist who unwittingly travels at the magic rush hour. They bear witness to this dark side of humanity. You feel I exaggerate?

In such situations, language and movement becomes limited. You must move with the crowd, and your movements are machinated elbows and shoulders, shuddering toward the exit signs like the robotic living dead. (Maybe this last comment will only strike a chord with Victoria-line users.) Anyway, the tut is basically an inhuman response when only such a response is appropriate. Why credit your fellow travelers with a full sentence when one syllable will suffice? They are after all, morons (see “robotic living dead”).

And when used to full effect, the tut may register anything from mild annoyance to incandescent rage.

In short, the tut reigns supreme as the most hated and most effective form of communication when dealing with errant travelers. Multilingual, universally recognized, and requiring minimum effort. Ladies and Gentlemen, the tut.


Diane Costello, a closet tutter