query: sarcastic antonymic nicknames

David Gil gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Wed Nov 25 14:22:31 UTC 2009

I think Suzanne is absolutely right in suggesting that the phenomenon 
I'm interested in does not necessarily involve sarcasm.  She suggests 
"irony" instead, but perhaps an even more felicitous name might be 
simply "Humorous Antonymic Nicknames".

(BTW, I've noticed that the equivalents in various languages of the 
English words "sarcasm" and "irony" may themselves differ subtly in 
meaning, which makes any cross-linguistic analysis of the phenomenon 
even more challenging.)

A little bit under 24 hours after posting the original query, I've 
received a slew of examples from English, a few nice examples from other 
European languages, but very little from the rest of the world -- the 
only clear-cut example so far coming from the Australian language Bardi 
(thanks to Claire Bowern).  So are Humorous Antonymic Nicknames really a 
mostly European phenomenon?  Or is it just that us 
mostly-European-language-speaking typologists don't know enough about 
the relevant facts in other parts of the world?


> There are many similar cases of pet names going the other way:
> Some people name their cute little guinea pigs "Spike", which 
> usually suggests a mean dog.  The name seems to only highlight
> the cuteness!
> 'Sarcasm' doesn't apply in many of the examples cited by posters.
> There is often humor in contrast and the violation
> of expectations. But I think the concept of sarcasm
> implies some degree of negativity or meanness; some 
> degree of contempt.  It's true there may be meanness in some cases of 
> bestowing
> such egregiously antonymic names. The original 
> bestowal is humorous due to the apparent contrast of name
> and thing;  but if the name picks out an unfortunate characteristic 
> then it could be mean. But any
> meanness in intention in antonymic naming
> seems incidental to the phenomenon. 
> I don't know if "ironic antonymic nicknames" is a better
> rubric but to me it fits better than "sarcastic". 
> Suzanne
> On Nov 25, 2009, at 1:41 AM, Jan Rijkhoff wrote:
>> Dear David,
>> Quite a few people call their pet turtle 'Fluffy'.
>> Best, Jan
>> Jan Rijkhoff
>> Associate professor, Dept. of Linguistics, Aarhus University
>> Building 1410 (Ringgade), Bartholins Allé 16, 3.
>> DK - 8000 Århus C, DENMARK
>> Phone: (+45) 8942 6550   *   Fax (+45) 8942 6570
>> E-mail: linjr at hum.au.dk <mailto:linjr at hum.au.dk>
>> Home page: http://person.au.dk/en/linjr@hum
>> Downloadable files: http://fc.hum.au.dk/~linjr@hum.au.dk/ 
>> <http://fc.hum.au.dk/%7Elinjr@hum.au.dk/>
>> Directions: http://www.au.dk/en/hum/lingvist/map.htm
>> *David Gil <gil at EVA.MPG.DE <mailto:gil at EVA.MPG.DE>> writes:*
>> Dear all,
>> ....
>> 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.
>> ...
>> Thanks,
>> David Gil

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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