words

Little grub
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Norma Major has been quick to deny her husband's claim, apparently made in a magazine interview, that his pet name for her is "little grub". Mystery surrounds (as they say in the popular press) the origin of this interesting revelation. The suggestion by a Daily Telegraph man (also denied) that it might have come from one of John Major's spin-doctors obviously won't hold water, since any spin-doctor could have thought of a better nickname than Grub, a Germanic word of uncertain origin which in its time has meant a maggot, a shorty, an intellectually disadvantaged person and a drudge. (The verb, meaning to forage, dig or rootle could explain why grub came to mean food.) My own theory is that the story arose from what we in the trade used to call an error of transmission, that the word used was not grub but bug, and that one early night, Norma having remarked that she was as snug as a bug in a rug, the sweet endearment stuck.

And why not? Sillier names have been exchanged between lover and lover, as we know from St Valentine's Day messages. The most popular are those of small creatures, feathered or furred. The film Four Weddings and a Funeral strikes an authentic note when one of the characters, in the throes of passion, calls his bride a "naughty little rabbit". Evelyn Waugh called his wife Laura "whiskers".

Nor do such names have to be complimentary. John Betjeman called his mistress Feeble and his wife Ugly, Beastliness or Filth, yet he was fond of both. His wife sometimes called him Dung, which is certainly no better than Bug; also Poofy, because she thought his balding head looked like a puffball. I always thought the names Rebecca West and H G Wells had for each other (he Jaguar, she Panther or, alas, Panfer) unnecessarily pretentious. The best are diminutives, not the names of creatures nobler and fiercer than we are. In a trial of strength and beauty, the jaguar could only make Wells look foolish.

Comments