Antiphrasis among the Rough Riders

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Fri Feb 4 06:33:15 UTC 2005

Antiphrastic nicknaming (e.g., calling a bald man "Curly") was apparently
quite popular among the Rough Riders of the Spanish-American War:

Los Angeles Times, Oct 4, 1898, p. 5
Rough Riders' Pet Names.
Origin of Some Queer Sobriquets Bestowed on the Troopers.
>From the New York Sun.
Many of the nicknames are conferred in a spirit of derision, their basis
lying in contrast. Two men of diametrically opposite type were assigned to
bunk together in the same tent, and essentially became sworn friends. One
was the typical fastidious clubman, the other a tobacco-chewing, cursing,
rough-and-ready bad man from the Middle West. Immediately the clubman was
christened "Tough Ike," and his bunkie became known through the regiment
as "that damn dude," or for short, "the D.D." "Metropolitan Bill" is a
citizen of the far West, whose chief claim to being a city man is that he
has an aunt living in New York.  "Sheeny Solomon," sometimes called "Old
Clo'es," is a red-headed Irishman, six feet two in his stocking feet. The
"Immigrant" is a trooper whose family helped settle New York. "Rubber Shoe
Andy" distinguished himself and won his name on scouting duty by
invariably tumbling over something with a great clatter at the very moment
when silence was most essential.
There are three bald-headed men in one troop, known, of course, as the
Sutherland Sisters-- Sister Jane, Sister Anne and Sister Araminta. A young
fellow-- and a mighty good fighter, too-- who is proud of his Jewish
blood, has accepted with perfect equanimity the nickname of the "Pork
Chop." In the same troop with him is a private who is probably the mildest
spoken man in the army. One evening, however, he got excited over
something and was plainly heard by several auditors whose testimony is
unimpeachable, to exclaim: "Oh thunder!" That settled his case. He has
been known ever since as "Blasphemy Bill." A Mississippi River gambler,
noted for his quite demeanor, is called "Hellroarer," while the most
picturesquely and flamboyantly profane man in the regiment rejoices in the
appellation of "Prayerful James." The funmaker for one troop is a
light-hearted Swede, always full of jokes, and because of his propensities
and his nationality called the "Weeping Dutchman." "Nigger" is a young
fellow who is so white as to be almost an albino. ...
It goes without saying that at the start all the fat men were called
"Living Skeleton," "Bean Pole," "Shadow," "Starvation Bill," "Dr. Tanner,"
and so on, while the thin troopers were generally designated as "Jumbo,"
"Heavyweight," "Anti-Fat," and the like.

--Ben Zimmer

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