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Sep 2001 Journal

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Name association games

During the American presidential election campaign,  ‘shrinks’ reported that the long drawn-out election battle caused some of their clients to have dreams revolving around images suggested by the names of the presidential candidates. Some dreamt of the burning bush out of which God spoke to Moses – others of blood and mayhem. A presidential candidate, almost as unfortunately named as Al Gore, was Bob Dole; his name must, at least subconsciously, have suggested unemployment pay to American voters. However, name association games can also yield humorous results. At the time of the Watergate scandal a lot of innocent amusement could be derived from the fact that two of the main culprits were called Ehrlichman and Kleindienst (Ehrlich translates as honest, and ein kleiner Dienst is a small service).

English public life has also thrown up some peculiar misnomers. The excessively slim William Pitt was known as ‘the bottomless pit’, while Edward Heath attracted the epithet the ‘blasted heath’ from his Shakespeare-reading critics. At a less elevated level Britain has had a close-shaving Chancellor of the Exchequer called Barber and a Foreign Office Minister named Butler, who really acted out the role of Jeeves vis-à-vis Joachim von Ribbentrop (who, of course, was a far cry from Lord Peter Wimsey). To continue the Ribbentrop theme: Nazi luminaries bore telltale names like Todt (death) Knochen (bone) Axmann (axe-man) Speer (spear) List (cunning) and Daluege (Lie). More recently two outstanding German Chancellors have borne the names of Brandt and Kohl, both pregnant with meaning. The former translates as conflagration (e.g. Reichstagsbrand) while the latter has two connotations. Literally, Kohl means cabbage, but informally it denotes rubbish or nonsense.

The current Austrian Chancellor who conferred respectability on the neo-Nazi Haider glories in the appellation Schüssel meaning bowl. What the name calls to mind, however, is no Jamesian Golden Bowl but a Leibschüssel, i.e. bed-pan.
Richard Grunberger

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