THERE’S nothing quite like a bit of name-calling to fire up social media outrage and so John Cleese has done his bit by living up to his Basil Fawlty alter-ego by calling Spectator editor Fraser Nelson a half-educated tenement Scot.

Nairn-born, Dollar Academy-educated Fraser will have enjoyed the attention, but not half as much as his magazine will have enjoyed the publicity. Half-educated or otherwise (who claims to be fully educated?), Scots have dominated UK journalism for as long as ink has been pressed on paper and there’s not a damp close between Nelson’s boss Andrew Neil (Paisley Grammar), Laura Kuenssberg (Laurel Park), or News UK chief operating officer David Dinsmore (High School of Glasgow and Strathallan).

It is sometimes claimed that aggressive language is just part of the Scottish literary tradition of “flyting”, described in Encyclopaedia Britannica as “a contest of verbal abuse, remarkable for its fierceness and extravagance”. But even in the spirit of flyting it would be inappropriate to describe Cleese as, for example, an over-married, past-it Wurzel (he’s from Weston-super-Mare in Somerset). So I won’t.

While Fraser Nelson will have been enjoying the merry banter with other half-educated chums at this week’s Conservative conference the truth is that treading the line between jocular ribbing and offensiveness is far from easy. In Scotland, as well as just annoying people, thanks to the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act there is a real danger your collar will be felt for what 20 years ago would have been dismissed as colourful Glesca patter. Changing times means changing attitudes and levels of offence, hence 1960s sitcom Till Death Us Do Part made a working class hero of Alf Garnett, not the reactionary grotesque he was supposed to be.

And oh how the nation laughed at the racial insults in ITV’s stab at subtle satire, Love Thy Neighbour, which, according to the British Comedy Guide website, was “a hugely popular sitcom highlighting and examining the clashes of class and colour in early-1970s Britain”. It only took 54 episodes for the joke to wear thin. Now, stick Ukip badges on Alf Garnett and Eddie Booth and it’s not lame comedy but docu-drama.

So to steer us through the modern cultural minefield has stepped media regulator Ofcom with a new guide based on a survey of around 250 interviews. Wisely, the “Attitudes to potentially offensive language and gestures on TV and Radio” guide to offensive language warns it “might contain a wide range of words which may cause offence”, which begs the question, to whom do you complain if you are offended by Ofcom? It’s ultimately the Parliamentary Ombudsman through your MP, just so you know.

Although aimed at broadcasters, there is something in the guide for everyone. I even learnt a couple of new words (eeew…gross!) and while it obviously has a serious and worthwhile intent there is something unavoidably amusing in an admittedly juvenile and lavatorial way to see words like “arse” spelt out with helpful advice that it is “mild language, generally of little concern”. Hence lack of asterisks.

Disappointingly, the reference to “bollocks” makes no attempt whatsoever to explain that when juxtaposed with “dog’s” it means something highly desirable, and we are left only with “Not generally offensive but somewhat vulgar when used to refer to testicles”. Oh b******s…

As for politics, sectarianism and national stereo-typing, Ofcom tells us Jock is “generally of little concern”, so how Taff is “potentially offensive” to Welsh folk beats me. There’s no mention of Nats and Yoons, and apparently Fenian, Papist, Prod and Taig had “low recognition outside Northern Ireland”, so you have to wonder how many Scots they interviewed.

There’s no guidance on Tim, but maybe just as well because advice on Hun seems to have raised eyebrows, deemed to be mildly offensive, even though it acknowledges it is “seen as less acceptable by those familiar with the history and use of the term as a sectarian insult”. Helpfully, it adds that “others unfamiliar with its use as an insult assumed it was an abbreviation of honey. Which is why Ruth Davidson could win The Herald’s e-politician of the year award for tweeting “You ok, hun,” to Jim Murphy.

Sadly I didn’t get away with it at the Scotsman for commissioning a cartoon to mark Pope Benedict’s visit to Scotland in which the German pontiff said “Hello, fellow Huns” to passing Rangers supporters. More than a few angry Blue-Noses wrote to tell me how many antecedents of proud Gers fans had died in the trenches fighting the Hun. And me a Hun too.