LONDON – British potato farmers demonstrated outside Parliament on Monday to publicize their bid to remove the term "couch potato" (search) from the Oxford English Dictionary (search), arguing that the description of slothful TV addicts harms the vegetable's image.
The group of about 30 farmers carried signs that read "couch potato out" and "ban the term couch potato." A similar rally took place in Oxford, central England.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term "couch potato" as "a person who spends leisure time passively or idly sitting around, especially watching television or video tapes."
The British Potato Council (search) says the phrase makes the vegetable seem unhealthy. It wants the expression stripped from the dictionary and replaced in everyday speech with the term "couch slouch."
"The potato industry are fed up with the disservice that 'couch potato' does to our product when we have an inherently healthy product," said Kathryn Race, head of marketing at the British Potato Council, a body set up by the government to run advertising campaigns promoting potato consumption and research issues linked to the vegetable.
"Potatoes have been around for many, many years, but increasingly, with all the coverage that dieting & healthy eating gets in general, we need to make sure that potatoes remain a popular food," Race said.
The demonstrators in London were joined by celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson, who said the vegetable was one of Britain's favorite foods.
"Not only are they healthy, they are versatile, convenient and taste great too. Life without potato is like a sandwich without a filling," he said.
Race said the council, which represents some 4,000 growers and processors, had written to the Oxford English Dictionary stating its objections but had not yet had a response.
John Simpson, chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, said the expression first appeared in the 1993 edition.
"Inclusion is based on currency of the term rather than on the basis of what people want us to put in the dictionary," he said. "When people blame words they are actually blaming the society that uses them."
Simpson said he thinks the campaign is "a bit of consciousness raising" on the part of the British Potato Council. "I think the potato has taken a bit of a mashing after the Atkins diet," he said, referring to the low-carbohydrate food regime.
Simpson said words are never taken out of the full-length dictionary — which includes some 650,000 words contained in 20 volumes — although little-used terms are removed from the smaller dictionaries to make way for newer ones.
"The OED is a record of the English language from the earliest days," Simpson said. "If something's in there, it remains as part of the patchwork of the English language."