query: sarcastic antonymic nicknames

Siva Kalyan sivakalyan.princeton at GMAIL.COM
Tue Nov 24 16:27:25 UTC 2009

How about in Robin Hood, where "Little" John is actually a large person?

2009/11/24 David Gil <gil at eva.mpg.de>

> Dear all,
> On my latest visit to Roon, a small island off the Birds Head of New
> Guinea, I met somebody with the Papuan Malay nickname "Pace Putih".  "Pace"
> is a male-person term of address, while "Putih" means 'white'.  People
> explained to me that he was called "Pace Putih" because -- ha ha -- he was
> by far the *darkest*-skinned person in the village.
> What struck me was (a) how immediately accessible to me the sarcastic
> nature of the nickname was; and (b) how in nearly two decades of experience
> in other parts of "Indonesia proper", I had never encountered a similar
> example of what I am calling here a Sarcastic Antonymic Nickname.
> Subsequent inquiries amongst colleagues in Indonesia revealed no known
> examples of Sarcastic Antonymic Nicknames, and a few colleagues actually
> went further, claiming that "we don't say things that way".  This suggests
> that there might be a real difference here between Papua and other parts of
> Indonesia.
> So the purpose of this query is to try and map out the cross-linguistic
> distribution of Sarcastic Antonymic Nickames: a thin person called "fatso",
> somebody with long hair referred to as "baldy", a stupid person known as
> "prof", etc.  I would greatly appreciate any real live examples you might be
> familiar with of such Sarcastic Antonymic Nicknames: in your own native
> language or in languages you have worked on; among your own circle of
> acquaintances, or in texts you have collected, or even cases that are
> generally known (public figures, fictitious characters in novels, movies,
> etc.), or whatever.  I would also be really interested in claims to the
> effect that a certain language does *not* have Sarcastic Antonymic
> Nicknames, though of course such negative claims are much harder to support.
> (Note: I am not interested in examples of the relatively well-known
> phenomenon whereby babies are given names expressing undesirable qualities
> in the hope that this will ward off the evil eye or whatnot, and that the
> baby will grow up to have the opposite qualities: although such cases may
> end up as de facto antonymic, they lack the crucial feature that I am
> interested in here, namely, sarcasm.)
> My more general interest is in the ways in which sarcasm and irony may
> differ cross-linguistically.   I have long had the feeling that sarcasm
> never seems to work for me in Indonesia, and other expats I have spoken to
> in Indonesia have reported similar experiences.  One is tempted to say that
> Indonesians don't "do" sarcasm, but this is not true: our own naturalistic
> corpora contain quite a few examples of utterances that have, for good
> reason, been tagged as sarcastic.  So maybe Indonesians do sarcasm
> differently.  This query is a first attempt towards putting such gut-feeling
> claims on a firmer empirical foundation.
> Thanks,
> David
> --
> David Gil
> Department of Linguistics
> Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
> Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany
> Telephone: 49-341-3550321 Fax: 49-341-3550119
> Email: gil at eva.mpg.de
> Webpage:  http://www.eva.mpg.de/~gil/
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