The language of modern politics tends to be less formal. On the contrary, it becomes more popular among politicians to speak like common people do, so that they would be recognized as close to the electorate. This tendency prevails especially in the USA where most people, figuratively speaking, got used to “judge a book by its cover” and are not prone to intellectual reasoning. During the electoral period politicians are preoccupied with their image and try hard as they can to win the popularity. Language in this case is one of the most important means of producing certain image and achieving success.
Regarding the fact that the language of a successful politician must be simple, smart and bright, speechwriters and image makers are very particular about the word choice. Specialists advise to choose such words and phrases that can become memorable, fresh and entertaining at the same time. That is why the language of politics contains a lot of expressive words and phrases endowed with axiological potential. Among the words having rich evaluative possibilities are political nicknames which meet all the above mentioned requirements.
Nickname – a name used informally instead of a person’s own name, usu. a short form of the actual name or a name connected with one’s character or history. Nicknames are often given at school to annoy or upset other children, and many last into adult life (Longman Dictionary, p.899).
Oxford English Dictionary gives the following definition of the word ‘nickname’: ‘A name or appellation added to, or substituted for, the proper name of a person, place, etc., usually given in ridicule or pleasantry’ (Oxford English Dictionary, 1989).
It is evident that such words as nicknames possess high axiological possibilities because they serve not only as means of assessment, but also correspond the evaluative attitude, forming the opinion concerning what is good and what is bad in the society. The negative potential of nicknames can be applied while characterizing political opponents. As for political supporters or the politician himself, nicknames with a humorous colour or positive connotation are often used. Certainly it depends on the purpose of giving a nickname.
Many American politicians especially presidents have nicknames. It can be a short form of the personal name, for example, Ike – Eisenhower, Teddy – T. Roosevelt, Bill – W. Clinton and so on. Another form of a nickname is the abbreviation of the full name of a person, for example, JFK – J. Kennedy, GWB – George Bush – junior.
As for George Bush – junior and his father George Bush – senior, we noticed that these politicians are sometimes named as the numbers of their presidential periods – Number 41 and Number 43. For example,… Although it is currently fashionable to lampoon Number 43 for his verbal gaffes, we know that Number 41 was in a class of his own (The Daily Telegraph, Feb.14, 2004, p.6).
Anyway, nicknames make presidents closer to people. And it is their main function together with the function of assessment in the language of politics.
In course of our research we also noticed that political nicknames can be personal when there is a reference to a real person and impersonal when it is applied to a group of people or a political party or a political movement.
For example, Robbery Hillham/ Hilla the Hun are offensive nicknames given to Hillary Clinton during the period of political fight when she unsuccessfully attempted to become President of the USA. Both nicknames are personal and characterize Mrs. Clinton from the negative side, eventually contributing to the destruction of her positive political image.
Concerning impersonal nicknames, we also provide some examples. For instance, hawks and doves used to be nicknames but later became ideologically loaded political words.
Hawk – 2. a person who believes in strong action or the use of force, esp. one who supports warlike political ideas.
Dove – 2. (in politics) a person in favour of peace and compromise. (Longman Dictionary, pp.382, 605).
Other examples are donkeys and elephants, boll weevils and gypsy moths. These are nicknames of American political parties – Democratic and Republican.
Gypsy moths – those liberal and moderate Republicans in the US House of Representatives who tend to deny support to President Ronald Reagan’s domestic and foreign policies. They are called gypsy moths, in contrast to boll weevils, after a leaf-eating moth found in the north, because most of these House members represent congressional districts from the Northeast and Midwest (Jay M. Shafritz, 1988, p.259).
Boll weevils – 1. A long used term for southern Democrats in the US House of Representatives who support conservative policies. 2. Southern Democrats in the US House of Representatives who have supported President Ronald Reagan’s economic programs. Boll weevils are insects that feed on cotton (Jay M. Shafritz, 1988, p.59)
We also should mention that some nicknames tend to lose their originality and primary meaning to become a part of evaluative political lexis. Now, let’s consider the examples of such words together with their etymology:
Lame-ducks — The session of Congress which came to a close on the 4th of March in the year following the election of a new president of the USA was nicknamed the Lame-duck Congress because many of those making up this session of Congress had been defeated in the November elections and would be replaced by the successful candidates on March 4th. The session of Congress which convened in 1922 was the first to be called a Lame-duck Congress and members of this Congress were known as Lame-ducks (G.E.Shankle, 1967, p.248).
Egghead — An intellectual; a politician with a highbrow image. The term was first used in American politics to derisively refer to Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965) when he was the Democratic nominee for president in 1952. The term fit Stevenson because he was all that the word implied, and worse – he had a balding, egg-shaped head (Jay M. Shafritz, 1988, p.184).
Both above mentioned nicknames have negative connotation. Nowadays, the word combination lame duck is used to characterize any American President serving the end of his last term without the right to be reelected. As for the word egghead, its negative evaluative potential is used while ridiculing any politician having a highbrow image (in our opinion, in modern Ukrainian politics ArseniyYatsenyuk perfectly fits this image).
In conclusion, it is necessary to underline that any nickname has great evaluative possibilities. The peculiarity of these words concludes in the possibility to express the assessment indirectly through the axiological component of connotation. Moreover, nicknames can form certain opinion about the object of assessment. That is why, due to their persuasive possibilities, nicknames often serve as strong ideological weapon in the language of politics.
- Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture. Longman Group UK Limited, 1992. – 1528 p.
- Oxford English Dictionary. Ed. J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. (http://dictionary.oed.com )
- Shafritz Jay M. The Dorsey Dictionary of American Government and Politics/ Jay M. Shafritz // The Dorsey press Chicago, Illinois 60604, 1988. – 670 p.
- Shankle G.E. American nicknames. Their Origin and Significance/ G.E. Shankle//, 2nd ed.: N.Y. The H.W. Wilson Company, 1967. – 524 p.
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