So the other day, while I was reading "the news," I found out that Robert Pattinson doesn't like the "RPatz" nickname the tabloids have given him.
He'd prefer to be known as "Chipper."
He doesn't have any say in this, of course, as life doesn't afford many people the chance to choose their own nickname. And indeed, the problem goes way beyond him: The media love using nicknames for public figures, almost all of them incredibly stupid.
The nicknames. That's what's incredibly stupid. Not the public figures. Not always.
The media have their reasons for this, which are, surprisingly, quite a bit less stupid. Here, then, are five of the dumbest nicknames around, and the reasons the media have used them.
#5. Shirtless FBI Agent
If you're like most people, you probably stopped paying attention to the news after Obama was re-elected to the office of Great Marxist Usurper. Maybe in the background you heard a bit about this General Petraeus adultery thing, but you probably just mentally filed it away as yet another example of a powerful man's boners catching up with him. But if you happened to pick up a newspaper last week, you may have been surprised to read a story referring to someone else involved in the scandal, an FBI agent known only as "Shirtless."
Why He Needs a Nickname:
Because no one knew his actual name.
For the first few days of this scandal, no one knew much about this guy, except that he'd sent a shirtless photo of himself to another minor player in the scandal. No one knew his name, and seeing as "shirtless FBI agent" was both accurate and memorable, well, there you go. Buy a shirt if you don't like it, buddy.
This happens on occasion when a figure becomes known, usually as a result of his or her actions, while still staying relatively anonymous. Needing to describe this figure a little more succinctly than "the guy who did the thing," a writer will come up with a shorthand label, typically related to the figure's most noteworthy action or attribute.
A great example of this is Deep Throat, the famous informant who tipped off reporters to the Watergate scandal. Yes, I know that the original reporters knew Mr. Throat's actual name and were just protecting his anonymity. But any other reporters who wanted to talk about the guy were stuck, left with no choice but to fire up their noisy old school word processors, crane their necks way back and tap out "Deep Throat."
"Why is this damned thing always so sticky? WOODWARD! BERNSTEIN!"
#4. The Geezer Bandit
The Geezer Bandit is an elderly man who was responsible for a spree of bank robberies in California in 2009 and 2010. His nickname appears to have been devised by a 5-year-old based on the only two things known about him.
"How about 'The P-Hat Bandit'?"
"No, that sounds kind of gross."
Again, anonymity played a big role here -- obviously no one knew the guy's actual name, and they had to call him something. But beyond that, there's another very good reason this guy got a nickname.
Why He Needs a Nickname:
Because they're fighting crime.
It turns out that assigning labels like this to serial criminals is actually a pretty useful crime-fighting tool. The nicknames are often, if not always, devised by police investigators, to help both themselves and the public remember which criminal is which.
Most criminals don't dress like this.
These nicknames make it much easier for the public and other police agencies to recognize the suspect if he strikes again. We might not remember "5 feet 8 inches, 55 to 70 years old, blue jacket," but we'll always remember "The Geezer Bandit." And it's exactly the kind of name that gets more press coverage and more eyeballs looking for the guy.
Not that any of that worked for apprehending the Geezer Bandit, incidentally, who's still at large. Or however at large someone can be while they've fallen in a bathtub.
#3. Turd Blossom
A "turd blossom" is a flower that sprouts from a lump of cow manure. It's also the nickname George W. Bush gave to his political adviser and chief of staff, Karl Rove, presumably due to some turd- or flower-like qualities that Rove possessed.
Because he reproduces with the help of pollinating insects, we guess.
When this nickname inevitably became known in the media, they didn't waste any time jumping on the bandwagon, and nowadays a solid chunk of columns about Rove will bring up "Turd Blossom" in some way or another.
Why He Needs a Nickname:
To make it easier to disparage him.
Although Bush was probably being affectionate when he originally called him that, "Turd Blossom" is now almost always used to describe Rove in a mocking tone, typically by an opinion columnist. Rove isn't alone here; just about every presidential nickname originated for basically the same reason. Dubya, Slick Willie, the Gipper, Tricky Dick, and so on? Those didn't appear on any campaign posters. Not friendly ones, at least.
This practice actually goes back a long way, to the days when "the media" was "that guy who could shout really loud." Rulers and other royals have often been given nicknames by their adversaries. James II of England was famously nicknamed "Seamus a' Chaca," or "James the Be-Shitten," by some of his ex-BFFs in Ireland, probably not for affectionate reasons. And we can only assume that the good King John earned the handle "Soft Sword" not from his parents, but rather his enemies, or perhaps a panel of ex-girlfriends.