Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Nice nicknames

Ever since I saw this amazing photo of Prince Henry of Wales wearing a Nazi insignia, I've been convinced that this lad has a detached screw floating around in his royal gray matter.

Yesterday, I saw his amateur video in which he designates comrades as "Paki" (slang for Pakistani) and "raghead" (slang for Arab). In the following version of the video of Mr Wales (as his military comrades call him), the subtitles are helpful, since Harry often mumbles and swears, and his instructions to comrades are delivered with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

Today, we hear that Prince Charles and his sons use regularly the nickname "Sooty" for a dark-skinned polo-player of Indian origins.

Since Prince Harry seems to be fond of nicknames based upon facial features, I think it's high time we gave him one: a nice little nickname that sticks, evoking what Harry sees when he looks in a mirror.

I've often pointed out that Australians are misled when they imagine that their colloquial language is particularly rich and colorful. There is little in everyday Australian language that gets anywhere near the vast splendors and subtleties of colloquial French, regional dialects throughout France and argot (slang). Just look at the huge success of the Dany Boon movie Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis, inspired by the colloquial language of the Picardie region. In the domain of Australian nicknames, however, there's a peculiarity that's so silly that it's hilarious. I'm referring to the common habit of using the nickname "Blue" for a guy with red hair. That's all we need for Prince Harry (who lived for a while in Australia). So, I nickname him solemnly, from now on, Blue... or Bluey for close friends.


  1. Well William,

    I have to say as usual that I disagreed with all the fuss about this event.

    First it was raised by that appalling hypocritical Murdoch rag the News of The World.

    Second most people these days do not understand the banter that goes on in tightly-knit organisations.

    The use of the word "racist" in this connexion is pathetic and absurd.

    Finally why is it OK to say "Brit", popularised by the disgusting murderous IRA, or "Aussie" and not OK to say "Paki".

    Years ago I worked in a garage. There there were a white English mechanic and a black English mechanic. Each day the white mechanic would say to his black colleague "piss off you black bastard." To this the black mechanic would reply: "go suck mammy titty." Then they would both laugh.

    I suppose "growing old" is just an expression to cover the experience of losing everything.

  2. It's true, Paul, that nicknames, even when they're derogatory, don't normally cause bodily harm, as summed up in one of my favorite nursery rhymes:

    Sticks and stones
    May break my bones
    But names will never
    Hurt me.

    My brother Don told me that an Aboriginal overseer with whom he worked at Wave Hill cattle station was capable of yelling out to a fellow stockman: "Hey, bloody blackfella, round up that stray!"

    In the case of the royal family, they themselves have always done their silly best to make the question of personal references a Big Thing. There was the notorious case of a naive young aristocrat who once asked Princess Margaret, at a ball: "How's your father's health, these days?" She replied curtly: "I imagine that you are referring to His Royal Majesty, King George VI." Then, without a further word, she rounded up her retinue and left the ball.

  3. That's a nice story about Princess Margaret and I believe, quite in character, though she did rather loosen up later.

    And it reminded me of a nice story about Sir Thomas Beecham Bart. Sir Thomas had just finished conducting a gala concert and came out afterwards to greet some of the distinguished guests. Whilst talking with one, he noticed a lady smiling at him and beckoning him over. He recognised her but couldn't place her. The conversation went roughly thus:

    "Thank you Sir Thomas for a splendid concert."

    "Delighted you enjoyed it madam; are you well?"

    "Very well thank you?"

    (Beecham was desperately racking his brains for something to say)

    "Er... and your husband, is he still in the same line?"

    "Yes Sir Thomas [smiles] he's still King."