Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Power Of Nicknames

A recent Facebook observation implied that the new coach of the England cricket team, Peter Moores, would impose a less frivolous atmosphere in the England dressing-room. Out would go nicknames and in would come respectful monikering. Mr. Moores, for example.

Latching onto this cricketing nicknaming theme, it occurs to me that nicknames can say a great deal about a team's style and intent. In the recent Ashes series, England were soundly thrashed by a side who can count among their playing and coaching ranks a Buck, a Rhino and a Boof. Darren Lehmann's boof alter ego apparently comes from having a big head (it's Aussie slang), but it also has an onomatopoeic quality. Boof, biff. And never was a nickname more apt than Ryan Harris's Rhino, a thick-hided Mammalian bowling machine whose lumbering demeanour belies an ability to hurl himself and the ball at enormous velocity. Even mild-mannered Chris Rogers, bespectacled off the field, passes through an imaginary phone booth on the walk to the wicket and becomes a Buck superhero. 

England never stood a chance. Their nicknames said it all. Swanny, who swanned off home. Belly, who perhaps prefers the cuteness of the y suffix to an alternative that has found its way onto cricket forums: the combining of his names Ian and Ronald to form Iron. This might sound sturdy, but it does also have a very different and wholly unwarranted rhyming-slang meaning. And then there is Captain Cook, limply labelled Chef. In another life, his home one, he also has the y treatment. Cooky. I know this because a some-time resident of Mallorca is a vendor at the market at his wife's family farm. She is on good Cooky-naming terms with the England captain; not, alas, that she has the faintest idea about cricket. 

So, rather than dispensing with informality, Mooresy should insist that the players acquire more macho nicknames. Perhaps they could consult the list of Gladiators' names - Cobra, Trojan, Warrior - or perhaps they could just start playing half-decent cricket. Nicknames do have a certain power after all. Some have been more like honorary titles that have bestowed greatness onto their holders. There was no greater than The Great Communicator, there was no more steadfast than The Iron Lady (her ironing not having been of a disparaging Belly style of course).

In addition to greatness, the nickname can help to soften the image, to make the almost non-human appear to be human. Which brings me to Spanish and Mallorcan politicians. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero never lacked in appearing to be human. While his Bambi nickname may have made him even more human (in an anthropomorphic way), it didn't do a great deal for a tough-guy image, one that he most certainly lacked.

In Mallorca there aren't really nicknames for the local politicos. Maria Antonia Munar, currently residing at his majesty's pleasure, did have one - the "princess" - but she was unusual in that she elevated herself to a position of self-appointed Mallorcan royalty. It wasn't necessarily complimentary, but nicknames for politicians rarely are.

Where the president of the Balearics is concerned, he remains stubbornly non-nicknamed, despite my best efforts to re-name him. For the record, these have included: Bowser, after the greedy, fire-breathing Super Mario character; J.R., which shouldn't require a great deal of explanation for those of you familiar with a scheming and manipulative oil baron (a nickname which can now be discounted because of presidential opposition to oil prospecting off the Balearics); Count Dracula, on account of a certain physical resemblance, as opposed to any possible blood-sucking instincts. The nearest that President Bauzá has come to a nickname has been the one assigned to him by union leader Lorenzo Bravo. But "fascist" can't really be termed a nickname. It is pretty squarely an insult (and a stupid one at that). More possible is "the pharmacist", a frequent enough reference to his one-time day job and, more controversially, to the allegations of his having retained links to his pharmacy business that were incompatible with his presidential position.

Back in national politics, we have Zapatero's successor, Mariano Rajoy. When he was debating with Solzhenitsyn, Uncle Alfie Rubalcaba of PSOE, prior to the last election, I described this as the battle of the beards. In one sense, this was rather unfortunate. Beard is another slang word. It is one reserved for a woman who makes a gay man appear to be straight. The English Wikipedia page for Rajoy once had to remove his a.k.a., i.e. La Trotona de Pontevedra. Basically, this was a furtherance of the rumour that he was gay and had married on the advice of one-time Francoist minister, Manuel Fraga.

There are nicknames and there are nicknames. They should, one hopes, have a certain affection or satire, but they shouldn't overstep the mark. As with the stupidity of Bravo's name-calling of Bauzá, so it was with Rajoy. There's insensitivity, too, based on unkindness and usually untruths. Iron.

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