An arse by any other name

Plus: Sex 'n' roll, Hell-Fire Dick, the dwarf war and other rattling mumpers.

Published July 3, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

We have a winner! Actually, we have two winners of the First Annual Crocodile's Birthday etymology contest, which was announced right here on June 12. Bob Bledsoe and Jayne Helgevold, who are married and live in lyrical-sounding Star Prairie, Wisc., didn't exactly ace the contest, but what their answers lacked in accuracy they more than made up for with desperate inventiveness, which moved our judges to enthuse, "Bob and Jayne, come on down!" On second thought, stay in Star Prairie -- your two handsome Salon T-shirts are now racing toward Wisconsin at blinding speed on a U.S. mail rocket sled.

The contest words or phrases to be defined were: "drunk as David's sow," "three-legged mare," "blind cupid," "beggar's bullets," "beetle-headed," "hum cap" and "rattling mumpers." Now, I won't drag you through the entire list in detail, but let's take a fast look at two of the entries -- one of which Bob and Jayne got very right and another, which they got terribly, grievously, horribly, shamefully wrong, wrong, wrong.

First, the right one, as explained in Bob and Jayne's winning entry: "Drunk as David's sow: seems there was a Welshman name of David Lloyd who kept a six-legged sow that he showed off for a couple pennies, or whatever they charge in Wales. One day his wife got a little drunk and fell into the sty and dropped off to sleep, whereupon a company of travelers dropped by wanting to see the sow. Davy took them out there, saying 'There's the sow for you! did you ever see the like?' one of the wits said, 'Well, it is the drunkest sow I've ever seen.' And ever after his wife was known as Davy's sow." Precisely correct.

The exceedingly, pitifully wrong one, also from Bob and Jayne's missive: "Blind cupids: since cupid was always represented as blindfolded -- love being blind and all -- and one never knew where he'd strike, these were the flaming arrows unleashed on a besieged town, reminiscent of St. Valentine's-day celebrations, when boys carried around brandons called cupid's torches." Good Lord, no, no, no, Bob and Jayne. A valiant try, but about as wrong as an answer can be. "Blind cupid" is an archaic term for that heart-shaped wonder, the human backside.

My authoritative source? The exquisite, irreplaceable "Lexicon Balatronicum, The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: Buckish Slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence." Its title page states that it was "Compiled originally by Captain Grove. And now considerably altered and enlarged, with the modern changes and improvements by a member of the Whip Club assisted by Hell-Fire Dick, and James Gordon, Esqrs. of Cambridge; and William Soames, Esq. of the Hon. Society of Newman's Hotel. "Don't even think of challenging it. Quickly now, here are the other definitions:

three-legged mare: the gallows

beggar's bullets: stones

beetle-headed: stupid

hum cap: old, strong beer, also called "stingo"

rattling mumpers: "beggars who ply coaches"

Meanwhile, 188 years later, this week in Portland, Ore., the national conference of the Little People of America is taking place. The event itself is a six-day gathering of people of short stature (4 feet 10 inches or under), their friends and families, but the whole affair is occurring under the dark cloud of a dispute in the dwarf community over what constitutes dignified employment and what doesn't. On one side of the argument you've got folks such as Steve Vento, 4-foot-4, of Milwaukee, who walks around Nacho Mama's restaurant allowing patrons to eat chips and salsa from his sombrero. "We've only had one person ... saying that it was degrading," Vento told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I told her, 'I don't remember anyone putting you in charge.' ... I don't see anything at all degrading about this. As for people who think it's degrading, they should get a life." Vento, by the way, is also part-owner of the restaurant.

However, Anthony Soares, vice president of public relations for Little People of America, told the Milwaukee paper that Vento's chosen vocation was "barbaric ... it's horrifying to realize that people are still being exploited for their size. You couldn't do that with, say, an Asian pulling a rickshaw. People would say that's racist."

The escalating tempest is pitting dwarves who are entertainers and trade on their short stature, against Soares and dwarves who work in more conventional professions. It could get worse before it gets better. Last week, Soares, who can't seem to let go of the rickshaw thing, told Portland's Willamette Week newspaper that "I'll never take back my comments on behalf of the LPA ... You would never see an Asian person in a Chinese restaurant pulling a rickshaw." And I concur -- that particular scenario is unlikely.

Elsewhere things are getting better -- or worse, depending on your point of view. At a Motley Cr|e concert last Tuesday at Maryland's Merriweather Post Pavilion, the Howard County News reports, "two women appeared on stage, undressed and simulated a sexual act" for approximately 5 minutes. The audience, some of whom cheered this innovative feat of abandon, had no trouble seeing all, as the ladies' performance was featured on a giant television screen. When asked about the special attraction, band member Nikki Sixx said brightly, "Hey, it's rock 'n' roll." Entirely correct, I suppose -- like it or not, that's entertainment indeed in some quarters. Motley Cr|e reportedly has no plans to change its elegant show and there are still tickets available for the 40-city tour.

And now, in closing, a happy thing and a sad thing. The happy thing: In an interview with BBC news, Ike Turner, former husband of Tina Turner, now working on his 13th marriage, says he has "a very happy life." The sad thing: You won't have "The Raw & the Cooked" to kick around anymore. Due to editorial overload -- writing this thing has pushed back my cocktail hour until almost 3 p.m. some days -- this is the last of TR&TC for the foreseeable future, though the column, which has the nasty, malaria-like habit of reoccurring years later (it first appeared in ol' Salon No. 1), may be back to haunt you when you least expect it. My Rogues' Gallery column, however, which appears every Thursday in Salon People, will continue to drag its iron ball around the exercise yard.

Sayonara and a wave of the hanky for now, loyal compadres.

By Douglas Cruickshank

Douglas Cruickshank is a senior writer for Salon. For more articles by Cruickshank, visit his archive.

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