Name-calling is in the nature of politics

Name-calling is in the nature of politics

Lance Neita

Saturday, February 20, 2016

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My father’s nickname was Toby Jug. He was the headmaster of the village school, so the pupils knew that they didn’t dare use the name unless it was behind his back and several yards out of earshot. But he had an admirable philosophical view about nicknames. "Boy, don’t pay them any mind," he would say to me when I complained that the boys were calling me "Big Ears", "Roas’ Rice", and "Cock-Eye".

"Anytime they call you a nickname just laugh with them and they will soon forget it." This, of course, proved true, as the best way to avoid nicknames hanging on to you is to laugh with the callers or, certainly, not to react or show your displeasure.

If in the unlikely event that the PM’s lawyers had asked me for advice over the present issue of name-calling, I would have told them to ignore it and not to allow it to become a public issue. Of course, they didn’t ask, and now the good PM’s name may just get associated with the name mentioned in the lawsuit.

How many of us can recall what names or slights were traded night after night between parties on the political platforms? By the next morning I have forgotten most of them. This one remains.

Political platforms are the stage for jokes, bantering, and for trading insults. This is a tradition, not only in Jamaica, but anywhere in the world. It is the nature of politics. ‘Con artist’, ‘bad mind’, ‘hypocrite’, ‘sell-out’ rain down from Half-Way-Tree and Sam Sharpe Square during election campaigns. It’s par for the course. It’s a twisted logic. If you haven’t ended up with a nickname at the end of your political career you are not considered a successful politician.

Our prime minister has names in her favour — Mama P is the number one. All our prime ministers have had to bear monikers, good and bad, attached to their names. We were kind to Norman Manley, he was "Fada Manley", Busta was the "Chief", Hugh Shearer carried his boyhood name "Son Lindo" into his career, and Seaga was, of course, "Papa Tax", "Bredda Eddie" and "One Don". Michael Manley used his "Joshua" to full advantage, the religious analogy stretching over centuries to meet up with Haile Selassie, the Ethiopian king of kings, who he claimed gave him his rod of correction.

Amusingly, Seaga captured the rod from Manley one night and produced it a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) meeting the next night. But days later Michael marched into a People’s National Party (PNP) meeting with what he claimed was the original rasta gift from Selassie, and that settled the battle of the rods.

The first politicians were immortalised by their nicknames, Florizel Glasspole was the "Brown Bomber"; William Seiveright, "the Commodore"; standing beside "Crab" Nethersole, "Doc" Newland, "Sugar Foot" Campbell (Sir Clifford), these are among the brighter ones. The dull ones, well, you just don’t remember.

Even within the present Cabinet there are nicknames, some of which I dare not call for fear of a lawsuit. Wilmot "Motty" Perkins was not so fettered and bombarded Bobby Pickersgill with "Wrong Jungle" and Ronnie Thwaites as the "Deacon" or "His Holiness".

The 1970s journalist Morris Cargill ignited a scorcher when he called then Prime Minister Michael Manley a windbag. This was following one of the PM’s marathon speeches in Parliament. All hell broke loose in the party ranks as the talk shows and the media were inundated with calls and letters accusing Cargill of rudeness, ‘fastiness’, and some even elevating him to enemy of the state. The protests and outrage continued for days, but this only added fuel to the fire. "I call him a windbag because he is a windbag," insisted Cargill in a further column. Argument done! This did not go down well with the Comrades of the day. But the country was greatly amused.

Note well, I do not recall Manley stating any objection or issuing threats to take the name-aller to court. And the matter was soon forgotten — that is until Cargill came up with a new name.

Now it seems to me that politicians of earlier days had the gift of repartee, a quality which is sadly lacking in our conversations these days. For example, sedate and respectable ‘Fada’ Manley did not resist the temptation to do a bit of name-calling himself. During the referendum campaign of 1961 he referred to Bustamante as "Busta’ Nanci", a play on Anancy, much to the amusement of the crowd. They waited eagerly for Busta’s reply, standard convention at political meetings then as when word is thrown from a platform it must be thrown back by the aggrieved candidate. It came at a JLP meeting the next night when Busta replied from the platform, "I hear he called me Busta’ Nanci last night, but you just watch, I’m going to wrap him up in my web". The web came days later when the JLP won the referendum street and lane.

Quick and witty responses were the hallmarks of some of our most outstanding politicians and international leaders. Sir Winston Churchill, former England prime minister, was accosted by his rival Lady Astor in the lobby of the House of Commons after a particularly heated debate.

"Winston," said Lady Astor, "if I were your wife I would put poison in your coffee".

"Madam," replied Churchill, "if I were your husband I would drink it".

Challenged by his opponent during a presidential debate to take a drug test a senator replied quick as a flash, "I will take a drug test if you will take an IQ test."

Both Busta and Manley kept their word-throwing outside of the courthouse. They were cousins and had a deep affection for each other. In a verbal joust with Norman, Busta once remarked, "I am referring to decimals and fractions. My friend and I both come from a great mathematical family."

Manley observed, "You were on the zero end."

"Ah," said Busta, "But I am among the millions now." Even if they called each other names — and con artist was never beyond the reach of Busta — neither would never allow an outsider to be rude to his younger relative.

Late photographer Astley Chin recalls a gathering at Tucker Avenue, Sir Alexander’s home, to celebrate an election victory. "As a news photographer, I was present when an overenthusiastic individual was roundly cussing out the PNP and their leader. Busta got wind of it and summoned the offender. ‘What was that?’" he asked. Unwittingly the man relaunched the tirade only to be stopped by the Chief. ‘You either leave Norman out of this or you will leave.’ The sobering effect was wonderful to behold."

Finally, the slaves had their nicknames, too, some of which were bundled up into what was known on the estates as the Jamaican Alphabet. Consider this as ammunition for any possible put-downs from today’s political platforms.

"A is for ass, see how him ‘tan, B is for Backra, a very bad man. C is for Cattie, him name Maria, D is for Duppy, him yeye shine like fire.

"E is for Elli, him ketch in a di ferry, F is for Figler, him play sweet and merry, G is for Governor, him live at King’s House, H is for Dry Harbour, place poor as church mouse.

"I is for myself, when I sick I go to bed, J is for john crow, him have a peel head.

"O is for oliphant, him have a big mouth, P is for pattoo, when night come he go out,

"Q is for Quattie, beg yu one, massa, please, R is for ratta, him tiptoe pon cheese."

— the late Junior Dowie

Condolences to Junior’s family and friends. His work speaks for itself, one of the all-time best news photographers, and a wonderful human being. For several years after his retirement we met regularly for lunch with a few other veterans. I was privileged to call him friend.

Lance Neita is a public relations and community relations consultant. Comments to the Observer or to

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