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What’s in a Name? An Invitation to CounterPunchers

During the last two years I’ve noted that CounterPunch contributors have coined numerous colorful eponyms that’ve been ascribed to politicians, namely presidents, cabinet members, corrupt businessmen, and public figures. And it seems that Donald Trump’s penchant for name-calling is an affliction that has “grabbed ahold of him.” Rocket Man, Crooked Hillary, Fake News are just a few of these jejune utterances. Great Guy that Donald, Great Guy.

Because I have been intrigued by the plethora of creative CP nomenclatures that have popped up on my screen, I decided (upon reading CP contributor Paul Street’s fine essay (10/13/2017 Orange Thing: Should It Stay Or Should It Go?) and Jeffrey St. Clair’s equally fine essay (10/27/2017 Niger, Niger Burning Bright), to pen an essay on nomenclature in which I solicit all CP contributors and readers to participate in what I hope will be a compendium of original names for all the clowns posing as public officials. And that includes presidents, cabinet members, politicians of every stripe, media and entertainment persona, hypocritical religious leaders, failed policies, and other public personages whose words and actions might, at some future date, shed some light on current disquieting events of national and international import.

As an example, Paul Street refers to Donald Trump as the Orange Thing, Clockwar Orangutan,  It,  and Rex Tillerson’s policies as  RExxon Tillerson’s Petro-Imperially Perfect Regime Threat.  Tillerson is identified as the Climate-Wrecker.   And Jeffrey St. Clair refers to Trump as President Bonespur, who is also a Human IED, and Chris Mathews is MSNBC’s Talking Dotard. 

Other Trump names that have cropped up in CP postings include NAFTA-Bashing-President, Thrice-Married-President, Pussy -Grabbing Presidentthe Malignant One, Narcissist-in-Chief, The Dotard, Bully-in Chief and the Orange Caligula. And current policies are referred to as The Orange Freak Show.  To which I would add HPTT (Head-Paper-Towel-Thrower-in Chief), and Head-Grabbler-in-Chief.

*****

There’s got to be something in the air. Only yesterday I received an email from a former colleague in which Donald Trump crops up as a parallel persona to Jane Austen’s Sir Walter Elliot of Kellynch Hall, a character in her fictional work Persuasion. Johnny states that Donald Trump’s personage is a parallel “ Janeiana [character] I gleaned from [Jane Austen’s novel] Persuasion.”  Former colleagues Johnny Wink (senior English faculty) and Jennifer Fayard (junior psychology faculty) have partnered to teach an Honors Seminar on Jane Austen’s works. In said email Johnny quotes several Austenian passages chock-full of apropos descriptive attributes of Sir Walter Eliot of Kellynch Hall that are excellent carbon-copies of The Great Rump, The Great Wretch. Quoting from Austen, Johnny cites the following text: “Sir Walter of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage.”  Or, as Johnny tells his email audience, “Here’s Elizabeth Elliot, a wretched chip off the old block if ever there was one, talking about her dad’s low view of freckles: ‘Freckles do not disgust me so very much as they do him. I have known a face not materially disfigured by a few, but he abominates them. You must have heard him notice Mrs. Clay’s freckles.’”   Promising more to come, Johnny states: “Two-hundred years ago Jane Austen saw this ‘wowser comin’!”

*****

Prior to asking the readers to become Onomaniacs by participating in a brief questionnaire at the end of this essay, I wish to take the reader on a trip down memory lane, a trip back to my early and formative years, bounding from one country to another, experiencing life-changing encounters, learning and amassing a massive inventory of names.

*****

I am not sure why, but I have always been spellbound and captivated by nomenclature. Much like a hobby, this fascination started at an early age, an ensnarement that grew in scope and diversity and has continued to this day.

Inspired by Fred Tarpley, the late author and linguist, one of my graduate school professors, I wrote two papers for two linguistics classes, one on name-calling, and the other on place names.  The first was presented at a 1972 Dallas, TX conference and co-published in an early Maldicta publication, a time when the most advanced technological writing and publishing gadgetry was the nascent IBM Selectric typewriter.

In my last year of graduate school I joined the American Name Society, and for over a decade I penned and presented several papers on some aspect of nomenclature, including literary, geographical and eponymous names. A few of the hard core members of the society took pride in referring to themselves as Onomaniacs, a label from which I shied.  And sometime in the mid 1980’s I dropped my membership in the society to focus my research on (1900 -1950)  U.S. immigration trends.

*****

Personal names (given names, surnames, nick names);   place names (villages, cities, countries, rivers, mountains, deserts); astrological names (of Latin, Greek and Arabic roots), biblical/religious names (enough to occupy the encyclopedist Diderot  for two lifetimes); names of wars, battles, and skirmishes; brand names (perhaps the most prolific, perennial and abundant coinages),  and  myriad other names have always transfixed me because of their rich nuances, their etymological opulence, and their socio-historic-politico-ethnographic subject matter.

Because my formative years were spent in a neighborhood of hodgepodge   Ashkenazi  (European Jews of German, Polish, Russian, Lithuanian, Hungarian and other European countries) and Sephardi/Mizrahi  (Eastern Jews of Moroccan, Iraqi, Yemeni, Egyptian, and Turkish backgrounds from North Africa and the Near East),  I developed an acuity for nomenclature in all its forms.

Yizhak, Mordechai, Shlomo,  Avraham,  Baruch, Ehud, Aron,  Amos, Gadi , Zippora,  Miriam, Shushana, and Devora are but a very few Jewish names  which date back to the 14 years (1945-1949) I lived in occupied West Jerusalem.

Soon after the Olim Haddashim (new Jewish immigrants) moved into the hundreds of vacated, fully-furnished Palestinian homes in our neighborhood (post 1948 War/Nakba ‘Catastrophe’), the  Israeli military government  opened public schools in West Jerusalem, including a neighborhood school  in the Upper Baq’aa neighborhood on what is known as the Jerusalem Bethlehem Road.  Mother’s attempts to register her children in this neighborhood school were rebuffed. After all, said the newly appointed principal just off the boat from somewhere in Europe: “Your children are not Jewish; this is not your country. Your children will not fit amongst our Jewish children.” Needless to say, in the 1950’s Upper Baq’aa  West Jerusalem suburb there was a pecking order  of ethnic stratification. At the apex of the food chain were the German Jews, followed by the Russian, Polish and other Slavic nationalities. And it was obvious that the same type of national/ethnic chauvinism (if not outright racism) that existed in pre-WWII Europe was transplanted to Palestine. Way down the street, perhaps as far as 3 kilometers, resided the Sephardic Jews.  The railroad tracks were the social/national/ethnic demarcation lines between the newly arrived Ashkenazi and Sephardic Olim Haddashim.  Seems that the resurgent European ethnocentric affliction is plaguing the entire globe.

To both of the aforementioned groups we were ha Plishtinim  (the Palestinians), Aravim  (Arabs), or Ha Nitzrim (Christians, after the Palestinian,  Nazarene, Jewish Prophet). To the Mishtara  (police) and some government officials  we were Aravim  Meluhlahim (dirty, parasitic Arabs).

Never mind that Palestinians have lived in Palestine for centuries! Rather, Do Mind that Palestinian roots in the land between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River are as old as time itself.

*****

And thus it was that two Catholic convents in West Jerusalem decided to expand their facilities to accommodate the West Jerusalem Palestinian community, a second class community that was ostracized and harassed by the Israeli government.

Arabic was spoken at home, at church, and amongst the few Palestinian children who lived in various West Jerusalem neighborhoods. And a variety of Arabic dialects were the modicum of communication between us and Sephardic Jews –many of whom preferred Arabic over Hebrew, including all the rich, savory culinary delights they favored over the bland, tasteless European fare.  For the neighborhood children Hebrew was the lingua franca of the front and backyards, including the open fields where we played Arabs and Jews, the American version of Cowboys and Indians, and where we flew our homemade kites, played cricket, hide-and-seek, and soccer.

Because of my ability to employ the Semitic guttural sounds that are an integral part of every native speaker of Arabic, I soon became as proficient at speaking native Sabra Hebrew as well as, if not better, than most Sabras (native born Israelis). Pity the Ashkenazi kids whose vocal chords were not as adept at elasticizing to excavate the richness of the voice box’s  deeply  magical   phonemic quarry to mine and to phonate the richness  of the throat scraping gutturals  Ha, Kha, Ain, Ghein, and Qa’af.   And , to the day I left Jerusalem in 1959, my ability to speak Hebrew fluently was the shield that guarded me from harassment around the Jerusalem environs.

And just recently I offered a $100 bill to a classroom-full of bilingual education majors to utter these sounds. As expected, there were no takers.

*****

Even my early education, first at St. Joseph’s School (where the nuns bragged about La Mère France’s role in civilizing le monde),  and the Sisters of Rosary in the historic Mamila District of Jerusalem, was enriched by a plethora of linguistic babble that only heightened my acuity to languages and the nuances thereof.  At St. Joseph’s and the Sisters of Rosary I studied Arabic, Hebrew, and French, and at the English Mission School (later the Anglican International School) I studied English in a more formal manner.

Almost all the students at the nuns’ schools were Palestinian Arabs, with a handful of Armenians, and a smaller number of European stock students. This meant that, in addition to learning the names of many saints,  Mary, Suheil, Rizk, Michelle, George,  Ibrahim, Rashid, Walid, Zuheir, Adel, As’ad, Munira, Rima, Aida, Amira, Afaf, and Mira were names with which I had strong affinities.

When I started the sixth grade at the Anglican International School,  a school whose students  (approximately 75 in all grades) at the time were the children of  a missionary, diplomats, international businessmen, and U.N. personnel serving in a variety of capacities, I befriended a Karl, Marianne, Halvor, Dag, Bruno, Hans, Peder, Lars, Erika, and Kristoffer, to name but a few. Pulitzer Prize Winner Kai Bird, author of Crossing Mendelbaum Gate: Coming of Age between the Arabs and Israelis, was a classmate. In addition to teaching us the importance of English currency such as the farthing, penney, twopence, six pence, shilling, florin, guinea, and pound, Miss Helen Wilkinson, the elderly British school mistress,  required us to recite the two Scottish ballads (Edward Edward & Lord Randall) in what else, but a Scottish brogue.

*****

Since Arabic is my mother tongue, it came naturally; since most of my neighborhood playmates were Jewish, Hebrew became the colloquial speech of all the playgrounds. And when the Ashkenazi kids got mad, their cuss words, no doubt learned from their elders, were, take your pick, in German, Yiddish, Polish, Russian, or other Slavic colorful utterance. And when the Sephardic kids got mad (a frequent occurrence between Ashkenazi and Sephardic), I learned a plethora of Arabic cuss words that are the universal expressions of disgust in Arabic-speaking countries. I do recall that of all the Sephardic kids, the Moroccan ones were the most adept at expressing their anger by heaping colorful invective on one’s family, especially one’s mother and sister, almost always with demeaning sexual inferences.  And soon many of these colorful terms were phonetically Hebraized and became the argot of disgust amongst Israelis, even to this day.

*****

Since my family was the only Palestinian family in the neighborhood, we could rightly claim that all the newly arrived (post May 1948) Jewish neighbors were interlopers.  In fact, the Hebrew term Oleh Haddash  (new immigrant), a term the Israeli government employed  to describe the hundreds of thousands of newly arrived Jews from across the globe, is proof positive that the demographics of Palestine would be indefinitely usurped.

*****

At St. Joseph’s School we were required to speak French, even during recess. One used Arabic at one’s peril, for the wrath of one of the Sisters was the end of the paddle she carried around as a monarch would grip his scepter.  My seven-year old recollection of this particular left-handed Sister was that she was a leviathan 50’ 50’ 50’ barrel of rotundity.

Even though the incident occurred some 66 or so years ago, it is still emblazoned in my cranium as though it transpired only yesterday.  It so happened that around 11:30 a.m., a time when I was thinking more about the lunch mother had so lovingly packed in the four-decker aluminum lunch pail for my twin brother and for me than I was about paying attention to the imposingly grotesque colossus’ homily on the finer points of catechism, that Zeus’ thunderbolt struck with lightning speed and accuracy.

Because I was raised in the Antiochian Orthodox church, I had heretofore crossed myself in the Orthodox manner:  the thumb, index and middle fingers are bonded in a triangular finger-tip-cluster to symbolize the Holy Trinity.  The other two fingers are folded into the palm of the same hand to symbolize Christ’s dual nature (divine and human).  Starting at the forehead, one’s right hand travels to mid chest, and is followed by moving one’s right hand to the right, then to the left shoulder.   Since, as doctrinal tradition tells us, Christ separated the faithful sheep (by placing them to his right)  from the goats (whom he placed to his left), then one’s right to left horizontal  gesture is, in effect, a reenactment of Christ’s Parable of the Sheep. This is also an intercession for Christ’s blessing. Sometimes this crossing of oneself is performed thrice, and in quick succession. The older generations seem to perform these ritualistic gestures reflexively and repetitively.

Thus it was that on that day some 66 years ago  La Bonne Sœur’s  protracted homily/demonstration on how and why Catholics cross themselves in a particular manner came at a time when the pangs of hunger overruled my short attention span, and  I soon succumbed to the gastronomical forces that fogged my mind.  “This is how you cross yourselves,” said the good sister.  With the extended fingers of one’s right palm, the right hand (it had to be the right hand — she asserted) and prompted by the priest’s entreating “The Father,” the hand first starts at the forehead, then, upon petitioning “The Son,” the hand moves to the lower chest. Upon invoking the  “Holy,” the hand moves first to the left shoulder, and ends, once the “Spirit “ is invoked, on one’s right shoulder. On a previous occasion La Bonne Sœur’s dramatic lectionary about the two angels on each person’s shoulders mesmerized me to the point that I associated elongated, Byzantine-style El Greco figures with these two angels. The one on the right shoulder was the good angel,  hovering over the right shoulder, always warding off the temptations dangled in front of us poor human beings, and always instigated by the devil himself disguised as an angel languishing on one’s left shoulder.

After a couple of demonstrations by La Ma Sœur, we were prompted to cross ourselves Catholic style.  Caught up in this confusing maelstrom of saints, angels, serpents, and beastly imagery conjured by my infantile mind, and too hungry to follow instructions, I crossed myself, as per instructions. No sooner than I ended with the “Spirit”  prompt, than I felt the left-handed slap of the towering chiaroscuro shroud  across my face. Turns out I used my left, instead of my right hand.  Because La Ma Sœur was a leftie, she concluded that I was mocking her.

La Ma Sœur’s left hand packed all the force Hephaestus’s arm could muster to pound the bronze on his Olympian anvil. The noon stars I saw on that day are indelibly forged in my brain.

*****

During my five year sojourn in Beirut, Lebanon I encountered Lebanese, Syrian,  Armenian, Egyptian, Gulf and North African Arabs, Armenians, Kurds, Turks,  and numerous foreign nationals. And I soon learned that some first names were Christian, some Muslim, and some (derived from Arabic) were in the neutral zone. And my classmates included Muslims (Shia, Alawi, Sunni, Druze) and Christians (Antiochian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Melkite, Maronite, Catholic, Protestant, Copts).  I would also discover that Lebanese identity cards listed one’s religion by sectarian affiliation. So much for pluralism in a country that proclaimed itself the Switzerland of the Near East. And thanks to La Mère France’s  colonial divide and conquer indoctrination, the hard core Maronite Christian Lebanese prefer to use the appellation Phoenician, instead of Lebanese, thus distancing themselves from their Arab roots.

And when I moved to the American South, I became friends with a Billy Bob, Jim Bob, Joe Don, Bella May, Suzy June, Lizzy Anne,  Billie Lou, Aga May, Betty Lou, Jon Paul, Mary Jo, Betty Jo, Jimmy Joe, John Mark, to name but a few. My Marco Polo journey from East to West afforded me numerous opportunities to meet and befriend people from across the world. Not only have I been enriched by the many friends, acquaintances, and diverse cultural encounters, but I have also been fortunate to benefit from the wisdom and warmth of these many friendships across the globe.

*****

I’d like to conclude with the following request: should anyone reading the above be in interested in sharing her/his appellations (in current use or newly coined) for any or all the following, please respond to halabyr@obu.edu.

American Presidents starting with Lyndon Johnson, Nixon (Tricky Dick), Carter, Bush the Elder (Bun Man, Tush Grabber), Clinton (Zipper Bill, Slick Willie, Teflon Bill, First Black Prez), Bush the Younger (Axis of Lies, Mission Accomplisher), Obama (Drone Man), Trump (The Great WretchTwitterer-in Chief;  Secretaries of State (Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Rex Tillerson); infamous Congressmen/women, including foreign leaders such as Benjamin Netanyahu,  Muammar Kaddafi, Tony Blair, Theresa May, Saddam Hussein, Saudi monarchs, or anyone else at home or abroad.

Please list as many names as you wish with a brief explanation, when apropos, and please do not use profanity (it’ll be filtered out by the server) or epithets. Responses will be solicited through mid-December and the compilation thereof submitted to Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank for a CP posting, should they accept the final product. No names will be published.

More articles by:

Raouf J. Halaby is a Professor Emeritus of English and Art. He is a writer, photographer, sculptor, an avid gardener, and a peace activist. halabys7181@outlook.com

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