JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 979
[See my earlier post on the change in 19th century Western literary figure nicknames]
Inspector Thomas Byrnes published a remarkable mug book and history of criminality in his 1886 Professional Criminals of America. It is remarkable how often the hundreds of people detailed in this book went on to long, vast, storied and a well-traveled careers, stopping here and there for a few years in Sing Sing or Dannemora, before moving on to riper pickings in other cities. But what I’ve focused on in this book, unfortunately or not, are the categories of crimes and the nicknames of the criminals, many of which strike me as prosaic.
[The interesting image below shows the only criminal in their sick/death bed,a accompanied by two rather ordinary guys who--uncommonly--are not looking down.]
The nicknames include such lovelies as Big Rice, Mollie Matches, Doctor Dick, Hoggie, Fairy, Blink, Nibbs, Funeral, Deafy, Milkman, Poodle, Daigo, Shang, Bugs, Shone, Bad Boy and Tit. The women ha dfar fewer nicknames, the three of the best of that limited selection being Mother Hubbard, Black Lena, Big Bertha and Kid Glove Rosey.
Their classifications of crime included boarding house thief, swindler, pennyweight, confidential operator, bogus custom house collector, sawdust gamer, scarper, river thief, tip lifter, window smash, skingamer, and butcher cart thief. (At some point I'll need to write a little something about the originator of the "Butcher Cart Thief", Big Frank McCoy. Big Frank didn't steal butcher carts--he would make his daring escape after robbing bank in a passing butcher cart. He'd rob the bank and spring onto the back of a cart to make his getaway. I think that this tells us that in NYC, for example, in 1882, there were so many of these carts in the streets that a person could actually get lost in a sea of the things...perhaps like hiding in a cab nowadays. Quite a little peep into a time long passed.)
But in the annals of nicknames these are not my choices for the most colorful, or descriptive. Leaving out all other categories (political, religious, musical, military will just have to wait for a more rainy day) of nicknames except for mobsters (as in “The Mob”), professional American baseball and physicist/mathematicians
[And from the female end of the book:]
Baseball has provided ceaseless though a little limited entertainment, tending sometimes toward the poetic overstatement (the Chairman of the Board, The Mighty Slider, The Great Significance) though it does get down to business in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s (the golden age of BB nicknames). Here are a few examples, minus the racist stuff: Pork Chop, Tater, Gummy, Whale, Pickles, Rawmeat, Spud, Bunny, Beast, Kitten, Possum, Slug, The Rat, Pudge, Tomato Face, Buttercup. (The most effective nicknames could've been made by combining two of the single names: "Spud Rawmeat", "Pudge Slug" or "Gummy Buttercup", for example.) There’s an awful lot of them dealing with food, and a whole heck of a lot dealing with facial features; they all seem to outweigh ball playing ability, by far.
So far as I can tell there are no good nicknames for physicists and mathematicians, except for the ones that I’ll make up right now. Richard (“You Talkin’ to ME?) Feynman, Albert (“Lady Boy” and "Big Soft") Einstein, Paul (“Deep Face”) Dirac, Enrst (“’Stache Boy”) Mach, John (“The Big Finger”) Nash, Ernest (“The Bone”) Rutherford, Erwin (“Slitty” or “Tabs”) Schroedinger, Isaac (“Sparkles”) Newton, Kurt (“Bad Water”) Goedel, Norbert (“Double Fisty”) Wiener, John (“Johnny the Push” or “Other God” or “Sweet Suits”) von Neumann are all possibly pretty if not irreverent. They also don’t come close to the overall winners in this restricted category of nickname appreciation, modern mobsters.
No one, I think quite comes to grip with nicknames as does The Mob; there’s a certain joie de morte there that escapes other groups, possibly because of its terminating, enforcing qualities and expectations.
Pete the Killer, Frankie Shots, Jimmy the Monk, Louie Two Gun, Tommy Scar, Louie Ha Ha, Joey the Animal, Teets, Richie the Boot, Joey the Push, Nags, Fifi, Joe Bananas, Baldy Dom, Frankie the Bug, Big Nose Sam, Butterass, Chicken Sticks, No Nose, Louie the Mooch, Joey Spoons, One-Ear Frankie, Punchy, Richie Phone, Beany the Squint, the Blind Pig, Joey Beans, and of course Jimmy the Sniff. And a host of Big ____, Little_____, Crazy _____, Fat ______ whatever.
I think that The Mob takes this contest, fair and square.
(For the record, the entire text by Byrnes is located here; also, I have the original 1886 edition and a 1969 reprint available for purchase should the spirit move anybody.)