Christopher Hirst: Losing our way in moniker alley

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One small, but noteworthy side-effect of the US elec- tion was the evolution of George W Bush's nickname.

One small, but noteworthy side-effect of the US elec- tion was the evolution of George W Bush's nickname. "Dubya" has contracted into the more neutral and manageable "W", so placards read "W stands for Women" or, alternatively, "W stands for Wrong". Alone among presidential nicknames - "Ike" (Eisenhower), "LBJ", "Tricky Dicky" (Nixon), "the Gipper" (Reagan), "the Comeback Kid" (Clinton) - Bush has become known by a single letter. Unfortunately, this abbreviation came too late for inclusion in a new collection of nicknames, Goldenballs and the Iron Lady by Andrew Delahunty (Oxford, £9.99).

Nicknames can be endearing or damning (Clinton hated "Slick Willy", first applied during his time as governor of Arkansas), but they have the effect of humanising and identifying a character. In Britain, we seem to have lost the knack of political nicknames. While once we came up with the excellent "Sir Shortly Floorcross" (Sir Hartley Shawcross) and "the Beast of Bolsover" (Dennis Skinner), no one has managed to satisfactorily tag Blair (who swiftly proved too power-crazed and Machiavellian for "Bambi"), the dour Brown or even the monstrous Prescott (unless you count the innocuous "Prezza").

Whatever happened to the inventiveness that gave us "the Mad Monk" (Keith Joseph), "the Welsh Windbag" (Neil Kinnock) and Kelvin MacKenzie's ineffable coinage, "Paddy Pantsdown"? The only single-letter nickname in the book that compares with Dubya's "W" is "the Big O", which somehow encapsulates the mysterious, dark presence that was Roy Orbison. This book is full of nominal joys. Merely among the Ds, it is a treat to be reacquainted with such monikers as "Dugout Doug" (the US troops' derogatory appellation for General MacArthur), "the Donald" (Trump) and "Duke" Wayne (after John Wayne's childhood dog, an Airedale).

Perhaps because they are obviously minted by wordsmiths desperate to inject some interest into their subjects, I have a soft spot for rhyming coinages such as "the Italian Stallion" (Sylvester Stallone), "the Muscles from Brussels" (Jean-Claude van Damme), "the Teflon Don" (John Gotti) and "the Nabob of Sob" (the lachrymose crooner Johnny Ray, also dubbed "the Prince of Wails").

Andrew Delahunty includes the Dublin statue of Anna Livia known to locals as "the floozie in the Jacuzzi" (the personification of the river Liffey stands in a fountain), but omits a couple of other statues in the Irish capital dubbed "The Tart with the Cart" (Molly Malone) and "The Prick with the Stick" (James Joyce).

One mystifying omission in the book's music section is "Keef", Stones fans' adoring term for the amiable Mr Richards. I was sorry that Mr Delahunty was unfamiliar with the honorific "His Bobness" applied to the godlike genius Bob Dylan. He gives us "Van the Man" Morrison, but not Phil "the Belfast Cowboy" Lynott, Eric "Slowhand" Clapton, but not Duane "Mr Twang" Eddie, "Fluff" Freeman (the name derived from an old jumper), but not Paul "the Great Gambo" Gambaccinni. We get "Fiery Fred" Trueman, but not "Merv the Swerve" Hughes. Similarly, "the Prince of Darkness" (Peter Mandelson before "Mandy" gained currency) is here, but not "the Man in Black" (as applied to Valentine Dyall, scary radio narrator of yesteryear).

Some people come to resent the mysterious power that is conferred by their nickname. Being known as "the Master" did not appeal to Noël Coward ("Oh, you know, jack of all trades, master of none"), while Bruce Springsteen simply says: "I hate being called "the Boss". On the other hand, there is a danger of some people wanting to live up to their nicknames, Jerry Lee Lewis ("the Killer") and Keith Moon ("Moon the Loon") are just two cases that spring to mind.

And some nicknames are a little too clever for their own good - "the Bouncing Czech" (Robert Maxwell), "Attila the Hen" (Margaret Thatcher), "Doris Karloff" (Ann Widdecombe). But where would we be without "Sunny Jim", "Worzel", "the Grocer", "the Chingford Strangler", or, least we forget, "Shagger" Norris?

The drink that changes colour

It is pleasing to learn that cranberry juice, as well as providing a tartly delicious refreshment, also bashes cholesterol. A recent Canadian study on "30 men between 18 and 70, who were slightly overweight with high levels of bad cholesterol" has shown they increased their "good cholesterol" by an average of 8 per cent after drinking a glass a day of Cranberry Classic Light. As with red wine, it's the red stuff in cranberries, called proanthocyanidins, that scrubs your arteries.

Excellent news, except you should make sure that you get the right cranberry juice. Earlier this year, I went to the UK launch of three products from Ocean Spray, the company that markets 80 per cent of the cranberries grown in the United States. They were new forms of cranberry juice, made from unripened cranberries and sweetened with apple, grape or peach juice. A great success in the US, they were described as "a drink for all the family". In fact, these infantilised versions struck me as being sickly sweet. Oh, and another thing; they are white.

Uneasy listening

I wish Sir Cliff Richard best wishes in his campaign to overturn a European Union law that ends copyright on sound recordings after 50 years. Sir Cliff's foresight in providing his Caribbean residence as a holiday home for the Blair family will surely do no harm to this campaign, which, if successful, will enable him to continue enjoying royalties from his 1958 hit "Move It". In fact, if it were in my power, Sir Cliff would enjoy a greatly increased level of royalties on all his infinite number of waxings. The more expensive they are, the less chance I have of ever again suffering from "The Young Ones" (1962), "Bachelor Boy" (1962), "Summer Holiday" (1963), "Congratulations" (1968)...

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