Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Good, the Bad and the Unready




This is not a book by me on 'Directors I've Known' - although with that title it could be. Would be quite a good read too. I could devote some chapters on the various types out there, plus throw in a few tips and tricks on how to deal with the more challenging ones (think spawn of Satan). I might even give away the secret to perfecting the 'You So Do Not Impress Me' look. Growing up with a cat in the house has many benefits.

Not what this book is about though. The Good, the Bad and the Unready by Robert Easton (childhood nickname 'Ridiculous Robert') is 'the remarkable truth behind history's strangest nicknames'. The man's not lying - he's got some pretty odd ones summed up in there. You have to feel sorry for the subjects of some of the included monikers though. It's one thing to be nicknamed 'the Terrible' or 'the Cruel', but really, doesn't your heart go out to 'Elizabeth the Red-Nosed Princess' (centuries before Rudolph), 'Heneage the Dismal' or 'Ladislaus the Elbow-High'? Oh and poor, poor 'Hugh the Dull' - an epithet like that would have almost made him wish he'd butchered a peasant or two (or two thousand) to earn a more fierce cognomen. No need to frown - I said almost.

If you're one of the seemingly dying breed that loves history, chances are you’ll be familiar with quite a few of the mentioned characters and their nicknames. Not that the likes of Tum Tum, Nose Almighty and the Prince of Whales are not still worth a good snigger. But it's the more obscure names that really tickle the imagination. Take ‘Athelfleda the White Duck’. That one had me seriously intrigued. Did the damsel in question have distinct Donaldian features (pale with webbed feet)? Did her mother blame her pregnancy on a white bird (can't believe Leda got away with that), or was poor Athelfleda just cursed with a bit of a funny voice? Here’s what Easton had to say on the origin of the name: ‘We don’t really know – it could have just been a term of endearment’. Yes. I liked my suggestions better too. Not sure Athelfleda would agree though.



I do admit to a childish delight in nicknames - especially (and this will come as no shock to you) the more irreverent ones. Chances are I’d think otherwise if I knew all that people called me. As a penniless student I was temping at a shower curtain factory one summer (not one of the high points in my life) and was  mortified to discover some of the male population had started referring to me as ‘The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies’. Not the kind of thing a very self-conscious young woman wants to hear. Especially as mine are really more of an average size anyway. I wore baggy things for the rest of the season. Of course now I think it was actually quite funny – and possibly a bit friendlier than ‘the Missing Links’, which is what I called the gentlemen in question from then on.

If you like nicknames as well, and enjoy historical anecdotes (peppered with quite a bit of gossip and hearsay), you will enjoy reading the Good the Bad and the Unready. No self-respecting toilet should be without it. Which is maybe not the kind of praise Robert Easton had in mind when he wrote it, but the bathroom really is a perfect place to 'dip into this little book and enjoy a good giggle' (pinched that from the cover). Now if I were to write the book I mentioned above, I would be thrilled if it became a toilet read. Considering how some of its main characters were full of crap, it might actually be quite appropriate.


6 comments:

  1. I am actually part of that breed who loves history. Not my greatest passion, but I do love it a lot. I'm a history channel junkie. This book reminds me of another book I had (and gave to a friend who never returned it to me) about funny latin proverbs - in latin. I used to hate latin in school but that book had me look at it with different eyes. And the funny proverbs where even more funny because in latin and not translated! I wish I could remember one...
    This book is also perfect as a night read, before sleep. And, really, is there a book that's not just absolutely PERFECT for the toilet??

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  2. This is too funny - I have that book you mention I think! It's called 'nil desperandum' and I've had it for absolutely ages. Some of the sayings are really familiar as we literally copied them, others are more unknown but really brilliant. I really like 'possunt quia posse videntur' (they can because they think they can). There's a lot of truth to that! I also have another great booklet called 'how to insult, abuse and insinuate in ancient Latin'. Hilarious! Oh, and have you ever read 'the meaning of tingo'? Great words and sayings from around the world - fantastic finds in there, another great toilet read. Although yes - every book is great for the toilet as long as it's not too big and heavy ;-)

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  3. What a great name for a book! Love it! Funnily enough, on morning tv yesterday morning, they had this story about a town in Australia where basically everybody is only known by their nickname, and they'd made a book of over 2000 nicknames from the town's residents. One of the men who was asked what his real name was took about 30 seconds to finally remember it was Jeff! They all only use nicknames to identify and talk to each other in this town. And, they have a 'hall of fame' where they have portraits of the longest residents with their nicknames underneath them. Funny!

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    1. That's a fantastic story, I love it! I wonder what makes us love nicknames so much. I suppose it creates a certain bond and familiarity between the people who are 'in on the secret'. And with the more irreverent ones I guess it can give people a feeling of power - they may not be able to stand up to a person of authority, but giving someone a mocking name may feel like a type of 'resistance' anyway.

      The company I work for once had a deputy CEO (lovely British guy) who was dead keen to find out what the meaning was of the nicknames a colleague (and very good friend) and I had (and still have!) for each other: she was KT and I was HL. After much coaxing on his part we revealed the truth to him -resulting in roaring laughter. Every time I met him after that I could be sure of a very broad smile!

      The nickname that has 'stuck' to me the most is Betty Boop (prominent eyes and mouth, not-so-very-prominent chin), followed close on its heels by Morticia and Wednesday. God knows why that is ;-)

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  4. Speaking of nicknames, I have a very long first name, but every one have always called me just Bobbi, wich in Italy is a name often used for dogs! On my first day of school the teacher called me and I ignored her: I was used to be called after my entire very long name, or just Bobbi - I didn't know who this Barbara the teacher called was!

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    1. Barbara Filomena Anna Maria IS a very long name - Bobbi is a little easier for everyday use! Although - I do like the long version as well. Especially Filomena. Bobbi is a common name for dogs in NL too - just spelled Bobbie. Sacha used to be a popular dog name as well - gaaaaaa!

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