Groovin' on a Friday Night I
Bill Long 9/5/08
Beginning with Tapadero
While writing the previous essays on words for wrap-around garments, I ran into the Polynesian word tapa. Tapa was cloth made from the bark of the Paper Mulberry tree. My eye wandered down the OED page, and it fell on tapadero, which I didn't know, but should have... It is "a heavy leather housing for the front of the stirrup, used in CA and elsewhere in North America to protect the foot against thorny undergrowth." All you need do is look at a picture--here--and it is clear what the tapaderos are. Simple. So nice to have clarity every once in a while in life...
The OED and Century disagree on the first or oldest meaning of "nickname." The OED says it is a variant of ekename (eke means "in addition"), which is a "name given in addition." The OED's definition of nickname is what we probably expected- "a (usually familiar or humorous) name which is given to a person, place, etc. as a supposedly appropriate replacement for or addition to the proper name." But the Century stresses a the negative part of the definition: "a name given to a person in contempt, derisiion, or reproach." It gives a great example from Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress.
Christian. "Is not your name Mr. By-ends, of Fair Speech?" By-ends. "That is not my name, but indeed it is a nickname that is given me by some that cannot abide me; and I must be content to bear it as a reproach."
However you look at it, a nickname is an additional name, usually shorter, that can probably serve either as a humorous or a derogatory appellation. The big word for nickname is hypocorism. It is derived from the Greek verb hyporizesthai, which means "to play the child." Thus, by giving a hypocorism, one is using a "pet name."
Two potential nicknames that I came across in the OED are snooks and snookums. They mean different things, according to the OED. Snooks is a name given to an imaginary or hypothetical person or any individual person. Thus, it can be synonymous with "Joe Blow" (which the OED calls "Joe Bloggs"), which was only first attested in 1941. But it normally is meant to apply to an imaginary person. Today we may say "X" said this or "Y" said that, but until the 1960s, "Snooks" would have been a good word for it. From Time Magazine in 1959, describing one of the first telephone answering machines:
"The recommended formula goes something like this: 'This is Flaxway 5768. Mr. Snooks is out. If you wish to leave a message, go ahead.'...Snooks, returning eventually to base, presses a button, and the machine reels off all the messages."
Snookums, on the other hand, is a "trivial term of endearment, usu. applied to children or lap-dogs." Huh? The two go hand in hand? From Lady's Home Journal in 1919: "Even 'Snookums' (i.e., little baby) knows and appreciates the soothing qualities of Johnson's Toilet and Baby Powder." I don't think my mother readily differentiated the terms when I was growing up. Sometimes I was snooks, sometimes snookums. Usually it was, "hey, you dummy."
While on the subject of nicknames, why not name the most famous legal one? It is Blackacre. Blackacre is a hypothetical parcel of land, which aids professors in posing hypothetical legal problems. It apparently has played this role since the early 17th century. You would think that we could develop a more "modern" legal nickname. I think, actually, Mallard should be adopted as the name of a rather innocent dupe that is exploited. He becomes, in fact, as you tell the hypothetical, a "sitting duck."
We are indebted to the French language for so many words, and frondeur is no exception. Derived from the word for "slingshot," a frondeur is a "malcontent, an 'irreconcilable.'" Space doesn't permit a full exposition of the movement known as the "Fronde" (no relation, surely, to the "Fonz"), but it flourished for a short time in the mid-17th century in opposition to heavy taxation policies pursued by Cardinal Mazarin to pay for the just-completed Thirty Years War. My sources differ on the point of whether the name was simply a descriptive one (i.e., the rebels shot slings) or whether it was invented by Mazarin supporters as a derogatory nickname or hypocorism to ridicule the impuissance of the opposition. In any case, the Fronde succeeded in causing Mazarin to flee the country, but then they fell into squabbling among themselves.
The Century sees this final implosion of the Fronde as bequeathing the name frondeur to us. It is a term of political reproach, to describe the incompetent opposition which destroys itself rather than the people in power. Yet, the OED only says that a frondeur is a "malcontent," without giving us the rather rich history that the Century provides. So, the dicitonaries aren't in agreement whether a frondeur is basically a politically inept person, someone who self-destructs politically, or is simply a malcontented person. Longfellow, in 1847, saw it as the latter: "All Americans who return from Europe malcontent with their own country, we call Frondeurs."
The Danger With Names
That is the danger with names, you know. If you bring a name from antiquity or more recent days into our language, you have to be pretty clear how broadly you want the term to sweep. For example, the word stentorian, referring to a "big voice," is derived from Stentor, the herald in the Iliad, and there really is no ambiguity as to what stentorian means. He is always lifting up his huge voice to call an assembly. Thus, stentorian is hyaline. But, what about the word ananias? Well, you may never have imagined that ananias is a word in our language, but it is "used allusively for a liar." "Since Locke's time newspaper Ananiases have not been infrequent." But the word is open to discussion. First of all, there is more than one Ananias in the Bible (the guy the word refers to was struck down by the Apostles in Acts 5); when I heard the word for the first time I thought of the Ananias who gave Paul guidance after his conversion. Thus, for me, an "Ananias" might be a trusted counselor. But someone decided that it is the Act 5 rather than the Acts 9 Ananias who bequeathes to us his name as an English word.
But even if I grant that the Ananias from Acts 5 ought to be the eponymous ancestor of the term, why does it have to mean "a liar"? If you read the text of Acts 5:1-5 closely, it says that Ananias and wife Sapphira sold their land and gave a part of the proceeds to the Apostles. Hm. Sounds pretty generous to me. But, in fact, this story follows on the heels of the "early Christian communism/communalism" passage of Acts 4, and so the author (Luke) probably wanted to give the impression that all the proceeds of the sale had to go to the church. But perhaps Ananias was of a different mind; perhaps he was trying to 'push the envelope' a bit, to force the Apostles to think through the nature of sharing of goods. In any case, it isn't obvious to me from reading Acts 5 that Ananias is a "liar," but that is what the word means in English. Perhaps one of the reasons that no one uses the word today is because the chosen definition doesn't really give us a clear signal--from biblical text to modern usage.
Well, this is more than enough for one essay. Let's try for one more essay tonight.