Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Academic Dinner Party

Bill Crider reading.

I have been to hundreds of academic dinner parties over the last forty years. Last Saturday's was one of the best.

There was a woman from Poland, who investigates discrimination against gays and blacks in the US and Poland. There was a woman from Germany, who was an artist in metalwork. There was a woman from The Netherlands who was an expert on Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Bowen. There was a woman from Romania who was a poet, a novelist and an expert in Comparative Literature. There was a French Canadian woman who was teaching a class about the evolution of rumors, especially those about Kwame Kilpatrick. There was a man from Italy who was an expert on Dante. There was a native Detroiter who writes books about horror films. My husband writes about the political theory. And me, well, you know.

But it didn't matter what anyone studied because the whole evening was spent talking about nicknames. We all realized finally that the use of nicknames was on the decline across cultures. The most interesting examples came from Italian culture where a family of men, all named Joe, each had a nickname that completely differentiated them from the rest. Big Joe, Alley Joe, Nine Fingers Joe and so on.

Do you or did you ever have a nickname? Do your children? Are nicknames dying out in your neck of the woods too?


Barbara Martin said...

I have a good friend who calls me 'Barbie', and in grade school 'barbwire'. Two of my three brothers had nicknames: Jack and Harry.

Dana King said...

I was "Dink," because I loved a cartoon character named Dinky Duck. My brother was "Bug." No idea why.

My daughter is nicknamed "Bink<" for the sound I used to make when I'd touch my finger to her nose after distracting her from a diaper changing. She hated being changed, loved the game I played with her. At seventeen, she still often signs emails to me as Bink.

I don't know if nicknames in general are dying out, but they're doing well around me. The Beloved Spousal Equivalent has gone by Corky for years, and friends who send me jokes for redistribution to toher friends are always identified by a "correspondent" name. (The Burgh Correspondent, the Midwestern Correspondent, the Desert Storm Correspondent, etc.)

Randy Johnson said...

I picked up the name Big Daddy at a place I went to work years ago after my thirty year job disappeared. Everyone else was younger than me and, since the boss's name was Randy like mine, that's what was hung on me. I was lucky at that. A guy younger than me they called "Grandpa."
While no one I know now calls me Big Daddy, I have adopted it for my email and several codes on different sites.

Todd Mason said...

I've never had an "open" nickname that wasn't rather insulting, though pet names from lovers and quasi-lovers have been much less unpleasant. The earliest I remember, aside from those from my parents I didn't much care for either, was from a 1st grade gym teacher, who thought himself hilarious in calling me "Clod." Perhaps he meant Claude, but somehow I doubt it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have never had a nickname and changing my name to Patti rather than Patsy at age nine was a leap. My attempt to change it to Pattie at age 10 didn't take. Patsy looks rather good about now.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Big Daddy looks pretty good about now.

Anonymous said...

Ok,I'm all of a scrawny 5'9" and about as intimidating as a bowl of vanilla pudding, but the staff of one of the local E.R.'s nicknamed me "The Animal"-- which was fine if I was dealing with a combative prisoner but not so cool if, as a paramedic, I brought in a sweet little old lady with chest pains. [I mean c'mon,would you want your ailing grandmother to hear, "Hey, animal, take her to room three." ]
John McAuley

pattinase (abbott) said...

I tried to give myself a nickname once (Peaches) but it didn't take. I'm now glad it didn't.

Charles Gramlich said...

I always wanted a nickname and never had one. sigh!

Peter Rozovsky said...

Hey, Peaches (or do you prefer to be called Pâté?): I'll bet you've read P. Roth's "The Great American Novel," which has one character nickanamed "Nickname" because he tried so desperately to acquire a nickname.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

To let you know I've just posted a FRiday forgotten book.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Read it years and years ago and had, of course, forgotten. Cute idea, and I've long outgrown Peaches being more than a joke. Maybe Pated Peaches.

Nan said...

Gosh, I don't think they are dying out, though you do see more 'real' names that used to be nicknames - like Kate or Jack. I am called by my nickname a lot. I'm quite fond of Patsy myself because of the Ab Fab girls. :<)

Anonymous said...

In high school and before, it was every variation on my last name, "Cooney," as in "Coons, Coonster, Coonerama, Coon Doggy," etc.

In college, and in my fraternity in particular, I was "Jimb" a reference to a Jerky Boys skit (they were the prank callers who were big in the late 90's). A recurring, nervous Jewish character named Sal Rosenberg dials a reception desk and stammers, "I-i-i-is Jimb'around?"

- Jimb

What are the weirdest ways people have stumbled onto your blog? My favorite bizarre search phrases.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Here in Philadelphia, fans and media have for decades conspired to confer on the city's athletes the lamest, most pathetically unimaginative collection of nicknames in all of sports.

Steve Carlton, a star lefthanded pitcher was called -- get this -- Lefty. And that's as creative as Philadelphia's feeble sports minds get. Beyond that, Mike Schmidt was called Schmitty. Bobby Clarke was Clarkie. John Kruk was, if you can believe it, Krukker.

Just this week, an article about Flyers (hockey) forward Jeff Carter took the trouble to note that his teammates call him "Carts." Julius Erving was Dr. J, but he got that evocative nickname before he came to the Philadelphia 76ers. Had he started his career here, he no doubt would have been called the Juler.

Where have you gone, Yankee Clipper, Splendid Splinter, Galloping Ghost, Night Train, Rocket? Sure as hell not to Philadelphia.

Hell, if Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known the world over as Pele, had played soccer here, Philadelphia would have called him Eddie and been pleased with itself for doing so.

Detectives Beyond Borders
“Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”