Wednesday 7 March 2018

Epithets 3

Classical poets like Homer referred to cow-eyed Hera, faithful Achates, pious Aeneas, rosy-fingered dawn, swift-footed Achilles, the wine-dark sea, all-powerful Kronos (Time), wind-footed Iris (the rainbow). Apollo (the sun-god) was known as “destroyer of mice”. Do "Homeric epithets" still exist? Who are the Dynamic Duo, the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader? The Iron Lady, Il Duce, the Bard, the Fab Four, the Swan of Avon? (Wikipedia says this is antonomasia.)

If you're looking for a role in life, this list may give you some ideas.

[Mr Quayle was] train-bearer and organ-blower to a whole procession of people.” (Charles Dickens, Bleak House Mr Quayle’s friends are all do-gooders, and this is his role. (Heroine Esther realised that “it was Mr. Quayle's mission to be in ecstasies with everybody else's mission and that it was the most popular mission of all”.)

“Offcuts of the New Left who originally met up at the Partisan Coffee House, but were in reality, rather than political activists or academic theorists, more the hefty drinkers, convivialists, half-forgotten artists and writers, or never to be known thinkers, working their way looking forward but stepping backwards to oblivion... ageing into a repetitive narrative and early death... a merry-go-round of ageing drunks with and without a ruined talent.” (Novelist Jenny Diski on the 60s denizens of Fitzrovia)

Elizabeth Taylor’s husband Eddie Fisher "dwindled into being her factotum, flourishing the onyx cigarette lighter, whistling for the limo".

There were a fair number of failure models on view: the drunk, the incompetent, the placemen and the pompous. (Julian Barnes Guardian July 2013)

ageing enfant terrible

attack dog

back-seat driver (micro-manager)
bellowing know-nothings (Owen Hatherley on planners who raze all 60s buildings)

co-op types
 (The entire class was full of co-op types, vegetarians in overalls and tie-dyed T-shirts. Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot)

daft ha’porth
(Matthew Sweet on hobbits and dwarves)
drama llama
drugstore cowboy
empty suits in seats of power (@davidhuyssen)
fading matinee idol

fang bangers
(fans of Twilight, True Blood etc)
feinshmekers (connoisseurs)
femme fatale
foot soldier
fortune hunter

gurt jobbernowl
gym buddy


intellectual yet idiot (All the right/left’s intellectuals are IYIs, depending on which side you are on.)

keyboard warrior 
lame duck
man of mystery

Mansplainer, whitesplainer, pagansplainer, instant expert who has been to one workshop

Monday-morning quarterback
my pet failure
nicknacketerian (collector or trader of bric-a-brac)
office spy
partner in crime
reality nobodies (Richie Brown/@whiffytidings)

shabby genteel

shadow spokesthing (David Aaronovitch)
Sieg-heiling tossweebles (@Gaipajama on UKIP)
mall goth
social climber
sore loser
stragglers (from a previous decade or the one before that)
Sunday painter

taxi-to-table breed
(in New York) (Times Sept 2015 on women who ostentatiously don’t wear tights – with their high heels - in winter.)

tennis nut
the crunchy-granola set (

the poor-little-me type
(Agatha Christie. She points out that you can play this role even when medium-sized.)

useful idiot
What happened to “rock liggers”? They were people who turned up to press events for the free food and drink, or to mingle with people on the scene, without actually playing in a band or even being a driver or roadie or PR person or stylist or...

More here, and links to the rest.

1 comment:

  1. I always love the mid-20thC idea that all women either have the come-hither look or they don't. Beautiful girls can be ignored, and jolie laides can scoop up the men - it all depends on whether you have sex appeal radiating out.
    In many non-fiction books now, new characters are introduced with three facts. I got these from a recent book:

    Tall and with muttonchop sideburns, Ewan played the guitar and loved the theatre.

    Brash, cocky and hard of hearing, with his thinning white hair combed straight back, Cotchett had been a Special Forces paratrooper

    The wiry, floppy-haired man, with a fondess for jogging and golf...

    They're a bit like dating profiles.