Sunday, September 21, 2008

The blame for this one falls squarely on Murphy

Here's a wonderful, cheeky little illustration by my great mate James 'Spud' Murphy (whose blog you can visit here). I was chatting to him on the phone this morning and we ended up discussing the whole 'Spud' as a nickname business. I've never called him Spud but many people do because he's Irish. Now, he's not offended by it; he's even embraced it by calling his art studio Spudstudios. But there are gangs of politically correct evangelists out there roaming the country in packs who claim that the nickname is a form of racism. Or even that it's offensive as it trawls up tragedies like the potato famine. And it was this that got us talking. Is it really so offensive?

The humble potato is useful, versatile, gives comfort and sustenance and really hasn't got a bad thing going for it. So it's hardly an insult to call someone 'Spud' is it? It's not like you're saying 'You are a vegetable'. If that's the intention, you'd make a lot more impact by simply saying, 'You are a vegetable'. Oh, and by adding a modifier like 'You tosspot' afterwards.

And, as Murphy pointed out to me this morning, the Irish are hardly helping themselves are they? The Inuit may have over a hundred words for 'snow' but the Irish seem to have an entire lexicon for the pomme de terre. They're potato obsessed! Here are some we found this morning - I'm sure there are many more:

Potato - Práta or Fata
Very big potato - cnaiste fadhbairne
Very small potato - póirín
Very tiny potato - paidrín
Very wet potato - sliomach
Frostbitten potato - práta seaca
Frost potato set - scoilteán
Old withered potato - langán
Potatoes cooked in embers - luathóg
Mashed potatoes - brúitín
Chips/Fries - sceallóga (prátaí)
New potatoes - prátaí nua or prátaí úra
Floury potato - práta plúrach
Boiled potatoes - prátaí bruite
Roast potatoes - prátaí rósta
Potato wedges - dingeacha bain or práta ding
Potato scoop - scúp leathchruinn

And my personal favourite:

A small useless potato - screamhachóir

Please don't take me to task over this all you scholars from the Gaeltacht - I don't speak the language and much of this post was drawn from a discussion forum at And, if it helps, you might notice that I have an Irish surname myself.

I've just had a splendid roast dinner with some truly excellent spuds. I won't hear a bad word said against them.


Shamus Murphy said...

lo. very nice.. Thank you very much Stig. At least your nickname means something more heroic....

Stig meaning and origin

Stig meaning: From the mount.
Stig origin: Swedish
Stig gender: Male

Or famously, Stig of the Dump - after reading the swedish meaning it actually makes more sense as to why Clive King chose this peculiar name.. Another accidental discovery perhaps?

Stevyn Colgan said...

Curious, eh?

For you lovely readers out there, I sahll explain ... I picked up the nickname Stig at school thanks to my scruffy 'Stig of the Dump' chic. I then lost the name for about 10 years. Then, bizarrely, I had some mail arrive at my workplace addressed to Stig Colgan. I laughed and explained to my colleagues that Stig had once been my nickname. And then, later that day, a package arrived addressed to Steve Goblin. So, from that point on, I became Stig Goblin ... and I used the pseudonym to great effect to attack people with my cartoons and editorials! Ha! Ha!

Murphy means 'Warrior from the Sea' doesn't it? And Colgan means 'Swordsman'. We really must settle this on the battlefield!

punk in writing said...

Oh really boys!

Take it outside if you're gonna use weapons. But as a saint I really cannot condone violence.

Swedish short form of MAGDALENE;
From a title which meant "of Magdala". Mary Magdalene, a character in the New Testament, was named thus because she was from Magdala - a village on the sea of Galilee. She was cleaned of evil spirits by Jesus and then remained with him during his ministry, witnessing the crucifixion and the resurrection. She was a popular saint in the Middle Ages, and the name became common then. In England it is traditionally rendered Madeline, while Magdalene or Magdalen is the learned form.

punk in writing said...

And all this talk of spuds is making me hungry. What I wouldn't give for a baked potato with cheese and coleslaw...

I used to buy those at "Spuds" next door to my job i Belfast.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Punky St Spud ... that has a nice ring to it. I may have to call you that from now on (please don't put a saintly curse on me).

Debby said...

I'm not sure if it translates, but over here, if something is of no consequence, we refer to it as 'small potatoes'. It just strikes me that calling someone a small useless potato would be a great epithet. Although, I can't imagine a true screamhachoir. Even the smallest potato could be used for a seed potato.

Chris Hale said...

Hmm. I know all about small, withered potatoes. But the ointment seems to be working.

This whole business of the "political incorrectness" of nicknames is sheer nonsense. I'm sure you will remember our mutual colleague "Taff" Thomas, who resolutely, even now, refuses to answer to anything other than "Taff". Indeed, the nickname still features in his email address. Some would say that, by accepting the nickname "Spud", Murphy is complicit in his own subjection. What a load of old tosh!

Stevyn Colgan said...

Debby - They haven't invented a spud so small I can't eat it. And yes, you do occasionally hear the expression 'small potatoes' over here but it's not that common. Bizarrely, we do use 'peanuts' a lot for a small amount (e.g. Three quid? That's peanuts!) even though the peanut is almost exclusively American. And when talking about an inconsequential person we talk about 'small fry' - a tiny little fish in a big pond.

Chris Hale said...

Can I add my two penn'orth? There is also the expression "small beer", which denotes something insignificant but seems to have fallen into disuse. "Small beer" also denoted the low alcohol ale, generally brewed at home and drunk in preference to oft-polluted water.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Chris - These things tend to go in cycles. I'm amazed at how often I hear the word 'poof' these days when just 10 years ago it was a complete no-no. Partly, that's due to the gay community embracing the name and using it themsleves. By doing so they've taken the sting out of it and what was once a term of abuse and hatred is now bandied about by comedians and entertainers as mild-mannered, friendly banter. Chris Rock has done similar things in the USA with the 'N' word (See? I still can't write it). Once a word is no longer seen as a term of abuse it cannot be used as one. I'm a great believer that no word should be taboo ... No taboo words = no insults.

But then I suppose we'll just have to resort to beating each other with sticks instead.

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