Debate has erupted over what should and should not be used to name a business, after a Queensland cafe was denied the ability to call itself “Eggslut” in a case the tribunal claimed “has something to offend almost everyone”.
The term had been intended for use by Cavalry Investments by a café in the Brisbane suburb of Lutwyche, as a double entendre between the assertion of someone ravenous for all things egg-based and an abbreviation of “eggs Lutwyche”.
“As it happens, even the applicant agrees the word ‘slut’ on its own is ‘of a kind that is undesirable’. But the applicant says the use of the word ‘slut’ as part of a compound expression is a different proposition,” the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) deputy president Bernard McCabe said.
When determining whether to register a business name, ASIC is required to consider whether it is “of a kind that is undesirable”, and it was this requirement on which this particular name was overruled.
Under the law, a business name is deemed to be undesirable if “in the opinion of ASIC, it is likely to be offensive to (a) members of the public; or (b) members of any section of the public”.
ASIC ruled the name was likely to cause offense, and therefore banned it from being used. The business then appealed to then minister for revenue and financial services Kelly O’Dwyer to use her discretion to overrule the decision, which she declined to do.
So Cavalry Investments lodged an appeal against both decisions in the AAT.
It was here that Peter Coster, whom News Corp Australia identified as a director of the business, went to great lengths to advocate for the use of the name, even providing a statement from “an English language expert and media commentator” to say that “the word ‘slut’ might be less exceptional if paired with a commodity, like coffee or eggs”.
“What might euphemistically be described as a ‘play on words’ is intended to highlight the fact the café specialises in serving a range of egg dishes,” Mr McCabe found in his ultimate judgement, upholding both of the original decisions by ASIC and the minister.
“The applicant says the addition of the qualifier ‘Egg’ draws the misogynistic sting of the word ‘slut’. The applicant argues the expression is a cheeky way of referring (and appealing) to voracious consumers of eggs and egg-based dishes.”
However, Mr McCabe ruled the name is controversial enough to warrant being barred from registration.
“I am satisfied the word is also offensive in the sense it would likely prompt a sufficiently intense reaction of affront and injury amongst members of the public, or members of sections of the public,” he said.
“[As such] I am satisfied ASIC’s decision should be affirmed.”
Debate on offensive language vs freedom of speech
Social media users noted that cafes already exist using the name in the US and Japan.
“I am of the firm belief that Eggslut is the best name for a restaurant in the history of restaurants,” said one.
News Corp readers were also split on the merits of the name.
“That's a great name! ASIC appears to be acting like a bunch of virtue signalling lefties, what a fantastic confidence builder for business lol! Good luck Mr Coster,” one reader commented.
Another suggested that at least one business has circumvented the rules by using acronyms to create a memorable name:
“A business was approved in [A]delaide called transport industry taxation scheme. They use the initials T.I.T.S.”
Even Mr McCabe himself noted that ruling against the registration of the name would be controversial.
“Many liberals of a classical bent will be troubled by the attempt to regulate unseemly or ugly expression. They may prefer leaving that role to the judgement of the market where individual consumers can register their disapproval in language that businesses understand: by shopping elsewhere,” he said.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.