Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Shakespeare's loaded question : Whats in a name ?

No-Name-Calling week, was declared and celebrated this year in January. Early next year it will becelebrated from January 21-25, 2008.

Why ?

Words hurt.

The younger a hurt person is, the more of an effect it has . In schools, it is routine for some students to be the target of frequent taunts based on their weight, height, intelligence, and sexual orientation/gender expression. Paticularly, in British schools, bullying, by the seniors , was the norm, and you were supposed to emerge, unscthed, and "bloody but unbowed" , as they say, through that.

Sometimes this resulted in a permanent scar on the person's psyche. It affected the students studies, confidence, self respect and attitude towards the world.

"The Misfits", written by James Howe, is a novel about four best friends who band together to face seventh grade in the face of such name callying and bullying. It describes how they formed a group and fought school elections on a no-name-calling platform, and impressed their principal so much, that they initiated a "No-name-calling-Day" at the school.

First celebrated in 2004, the No-name-calling week has been celebrated every year since then , and has consisted of educators, parents and schools working together and discussing and implementing ways to reduce and remove bullying in the community.

While young children today may learn , it is inetersting to note that "name-calling" in some form, as always existed, the world over, historically speaking.

Calling people names, or Name-calling has absolutely nothing to do with knowing somebody's name and calling out to him and her. But it has everything to do with calling out to someone in a very offensive way, so as to be hurtful.

In the olden days, people did not sport easy names like Bill, Al, Dick,Rajiv,Deepak, Arun or , for that matter, George. They had impressive sounding, multisyllable names like Cornelius, Olivio, Marlborough, Spencer, Abraham, Venkatraghavan, Solapurwalla, Setalvad, Figueredo-de-Albuquerque, Boutrous-Boutrous-Ghali, Mountbatten , and such which basically made it difficult to get up and abuse the person easily.

The Greeks and Romans, not to speak of the Egyptians , were very fond of names that nobody could spell or pronounce, but then most people did not take English 101 in those days. You had names like Persepolis, Polyxena, Atridae, Philoctetes, Neoptolemus, Telamonian Ajax, Laomedon, Tyndareus,-just to name a few.

Calling out to "you XXXX XXXX Neoptolemus Ajax" or whoever, wasnt either practical or cool. And so they resorted to duels. While name calling was all about dishonoring someone, duels, (which by today's criminal standards could be deemed culturally sanctioned murder), were all about "restoring on's honor" and an inextricable part of daily life.

While Greeks and Romans could embellish duels, with human sacrifices on the side in the names of various assorted Gods (who commanded them to do that), huge wars like the Trojan War , were often conducted on a matter of individual honor and prestige, and neighboring countries joined the fracas. The more the merrier.

Closer to home, it is not unusual to realise that several prominent political figures were , through the various ages of history, often involved in duels for the most flimsiestof reasons. Abraham Lincoln nearly had to slash at a tax auditor with a saber because he claimed in print that the man smelled badly. Mark Twain , while working as a nespaperman in Nevada in 1864 challenged a rival and only escaped injury through the guile of his "second" (a supposed arbiter, or a person who might be called the dueler's "homey" in today's parlance). At "Bloody Bladensburg," an infamous dueling field near Washington, D.C., many of the country's politicians brutally mowed each other down over second-hand rumors. San Francisco , at one time had the dubious honor of being the Duelling Capital of the nation.

While its been a long time since someone went around Washington DC waving a sword , name calling continues actively to this day. Rush Limbaugh, even took on Chelsea Clinton when she was, would you believe, thirteen, and called her a Whiye House Dog. In a effort at name-calling people his own size, he then attacked Democratic leader Tom Daschle and actually called him "El Diablo" or "the Devil Incarnate", complete with the music of "Devil in a Blue Dress" wafting in the background. He evn further explained that Daschle could be Satan in soft-spoken disguise. He even questioned his patriotism by calling him Hanoi Tom, and Tokyo Tom.

While powerful rulers from the middle east often use completely unparliamenrtary language to describe Bush, Venezuelan President Chavez got into the act by called Bush El Diablo.

Recently , referring to answers given by Presidential hopefuls (2008) to questions about them meeting leaders of Iraq,Venezuela,Cuba etc, Barack Obama called Hilary Clinton, a "Bush Cheney Lite".

Talk radio host Michael Savage, announced that developing countries like Venezuela were "turd world nations"; that Latinos "breed like rabbits"; and that women "should have been denied the vote".

If this were a tennis match between the Us and Venezuela,, we would now be at deuce.

Speaking of tennis , Wimbledon and England come to mind.

No 10, Downing Street, the historical abode of all British Prime Ministers, has been at the recieving end of the name-calling slugfest, and word has it that all the 50 men and one woman who have held the job since Sir Robert Walpole took control in 1721 have been beqeathed rude names. Most have hated them.

Most recently, Tony Blair has been called Bush's Poodle,by his opponents. Then The US president complicated matters saying "He is bigger than that !"(June 27, 2007)...

It has not mattered whether the British Prime Minister was a member of ruyalty or a commoner. The sixth primeminister John Stuart , Earl of Bute, was called Jack Boot; the tenth, Augusttus Henry Fitzroy was described as "the Turf Macaroni"; the twentieth, Frederick Robinson, was nicknamed the "Blubberer"; Sir Robert Peel the 24th occupant was disdainfully called the "Orange Peel"; Benjakin Disraeli , the 29th occupant of 10 Downimg St, was often dismissed as "Dizzy"; Harold Macmillan, the 44th occupant was openly called "Mac the Knife". On generous days , he was often called SuperMac; Jobs and Wozniak probably could not ever match that. Arthur Balfour, sometimes called Bloody Balfour , was actually happy that no one called him by his earlier names, "Pretty Fanny" , "Clara", "Niminy-Pimminy" and "Lisping Hawthorn Bird". As can be expected, he never married.

Much more recently, Tony Blair referred to the current Prime Minsiter as a "big clunking fist"; Margaret Thatcher , the Iron Lady, was derided as the "Milk Snatcher", and Edward Heath, endured "Grocer Heath" , a reference to his very ordinary origins in a society where class was anecessary attribute.

Things can get very alarming in places like India, where recently the Chief Minsiter of a Southern State, while replying strongly to the opposition leader in the State Legislature , declared as to how the "opposition leaders mother must have been ashamed to carry him in her womb ". The Indian Parliament, (now a far cry from the time when debates there were a treat to watch and a lesson in oratory and behaviour)
a few years ago witnessed a Prime Minsiter about to lose a no-confidence motion being called a namby pamby, and "non-worker".

The study of English always required , at some point , a study of Shakespeare. he is even quoted to have made a loaded statement like "Whats in a name ? ", and the mentioned roses.

Today, thanks to the World Wide Web, there exist sites where one can choose adjectives and nouns fron three columns, and make up original sounding personal insults such as "paunchy claybrained flap dragon", "tottering tickle-brained moldwarp", "frothy guts-gripping whey-face", and " beslubbering dread-bolted horn-beast ", all listed under the heading "Shakespearan Insults".....

In the face of such adults who thrive and get drunk on power calling other people names, the No-Name-Calling Week comes as a breath of fresh air, in a world polluted with offensive words, accusations , fights and wars.

In a world where any schoolchildren reading newspapers are subjected to such news, it remains to be seen , what effect such a no-name-calling week will have. Sometimes, children are known to dsiplay more sense than adults.

Hopefully, seeing all these illbehaved, abusive, foulmouthed namecallers, will have a telling effect on today's children , and while politics is a lost cause in this regard, the children will grow up to be co-operative, polite yet independent citizens with a better control over their vocabulary....

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