query: sarcastic antonymic nicknames

Raffaele Simone simone at UNIROMA3.IT
Sun Nov 29 16:52:28 UTC 2009

In various vernaculars of Italy (mainly the southern ones, as far as I 
know), it is usual to recur to a sort of ironic antiphrasis to address 
people or to qualify things and events. This happens for instance in 
Sardinia, where it seems to be a regular habit (cf. C. Lavinio's Retorica e 
italiano regionale: il caso dell'antifrasi nell'italiano regionale sardo, in 
M.A. Cortelazzo - A.M. Mioni (eds), L'italiano regionale. Atti del XVIII 
Congresso Internazionale di Studi della Società di Linguistica Italiana 
(Padova-Vicenza, 16 settembre 1984), Roma, Bulzoni, 1990, pp. 311-326), but 
also in other parts of the country (e.g. the Bari area in the Puglia 
region). A huge object may be be qualified as 'tiny', a fat person as 
'slim', a flourishing person as 'worn out', an expensive object as 'cheap' 
and so on. Such uses are not necessarily witty, since they also occur in 
regular, namely fully friendly conversation. This phenomenon does not regard 
just the designation of people and objects and the way of addressing them, 
but more in general it gives place to a whole rhetorics. Such uses may bring 
about nicknames and, over the time, family names.

R Simone
Dipartimento di Linguistica
Università Roma Tre
Via Ostiense 236
I-00146 Roma
tel. +[39](06)5733 8343
fax  +[39](06)5733 8344
Attività e pubblicazioni // Activity and publications

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Bill Palmer" <Bill.Palmer at NEWCASTLE.EDU.AU>
Sent: Tuesday, November 24, 2009 10:10 PM
Subject: Re: query: sarcastic antonymic nicknames

> Dear David
> Australian English is repleat with such nicknames. The most well-known and 
> deeply-entrenched (if now somewhat dated) example is 'blue' or 'bluey' for 
> redheads. But in some social contexts the process is common and 
> productive. As an anecdotal example, in one job I held many years ago, I 
> was called 'tiny' (I'm over 6'4"), a colleague held to be unusually 
> handsome was 'ugly' or 'uggs', and another who was held to be unusually 
> intelligent was 'stupid'.
> Bill
> Dr Bill Palmer
> Convenor, Pacific Languages Research Group
> Linguistics Research Higher Degree and Honours coordinator
> School of Humanities and Social Science
> University of Newcastle
> Callaghan NSW 2308
> Australia
> email bill.palmer at newcastle.edu.au
>>>> David Gil <gil at EVA.MPG.DE> 25/11/09 3:00 AM >>>
> 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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