Dot Wordsworth

Mind Your Language | 7 May 2005

A Lexicographer writes

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I was surprised by the number of people who disliked the Daily Telegraph’s headline on the election of Cardinal Ratzinger to the papacy: ‘“God’s rottweiler” is the new pope’. I don’t think it was meant to be as rude as many thought. But what puzzled me was that I had never heard anyone refer to Ratzinger as ‘God’s rottweiler’.

It seems to be a common failure of the whole press to assert that people are ‘known as’ some catchy nickname, when no one ever uses it. One might call it the Dubbing Fallacy.

Dub, since the 12th century has signified the conferring of a knighthood, and by the 16th century had been extended to mean ‘to give a nickname’. Shakespeare in Henry V writes ‘To dub thee with the name of Traitor’. It is just that when a newspaper says that someone is ‘known as’ or ‘dubbed’ with a name, you will find that name is only ever linked with the person in the context of a newspaper sentence saying that this is how they are known or dubbed.

So, Roberto Calvi was only ever called ‘God’s banker’ in newspaper articles saying, ‘Roberto Calvi, known as God’s banker’. The pre-papal Ratzinger attracted other attempts at dubbing. He was also ‘dubbed the Panzerkardinal’, except no one in Rome, or Munich either, said, ‘I’m having dinner tonight with the Panzerkardinal’.

For some reason the Mail on Sunday, a paper that Veronica sometimes brings into the house, seems particularly given to dubbing. Last year it wrote about the Czech singer, Magdalena Kozen