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Senior Moment: Nicknames and the stories they tell

Senior Moment: Nicknames and the stories they tell

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Forsythe Pendleton Jones III, he of the crown-tipped beanie, has long passed out of comic book fashion. But in the once-famous "Archie" series, Jones, better known as "Jughead," was the source of usually awkward — but always hilarious — situations familiar to teenagers from the ‘50s through the ‘80s.

But the nickname wasn’t confined to the comic pages — not by a long shot.

Every small or tiny town of note could usually find a "Juggie" or "Jugs" lounging in the high school student population. Of course it was a time when "PC" meant no more than "private corporation" and the aberrancy of political correctness was nowhere on the horizon.

If memory serves, in my very small town (graduating high school class: 22), we had a "Jughead," three ready ruffians named "Butch," a couple of "Spikes," a "Snagger," a "Snotty" and a "Hoppy". There were two "Specs," a "Tipper" — long before the Gores came along — a "Hayshaker," "Buster" and "Beanhead."

Quite a crew for a small prairie burg less than two miles in circumference.

Each moniker of course had its unimpeachable source. "Jughead" was a big guy with a big head and a smile to go with both. Those mischievous lads tagged as "Butch" never could let a chance for deviltry pass without indulging while "Big Spike" and "Little Spike" carried their nicknames with pride, so labeled for their father’s legendary prowess on the railroad section gang.

"Snagger," as his father before him, had an eagle eye and matchless ability at first base in local baseball lore while "Snotty’s" last name was, well, Snodgrass.

One "Hoppy’s" last name was Hopkins while the other’s obsession with Western movie character Hopalong Cassidy earned him the nickname. Those carrying the "Specs" sobriquet, naturally, wore glasses from early on.

"Tipper’s" neighborhood appellation was earned when his seemingly incurable penchant for tipping over outhouses as a Halloween "trick" caught him up short one year after he slipped and fell into the ripe leavings of a two-holer.

"Hayshaker" and "Buster" were rightfully proud farmboys while "Beanhead’s" family operated the local grain elevator and with a wink provided an endless supply of soybeans for the annual "peashooter wars" which raged through so many golden autumn afternoons.

Girls, of course, had their nicknames for each other — used it seems only in arcane rituals to which boys would be privy only on pain of death. For the times, it appeared to be the natural order of things; a line not to be crossed on very real fear of parental and peer disapprobation.

Boys’ nicknames, however, were real labels in a different world. Only a spoilsport, after all, would swap "Butch" for "Ralph," "Dale" or "Evan"; "Buster" for "Lyle," or "Tipper" for "James."

Decades on, the monickers managed to stick, whether in chance meetings on the street, at class reunions, or in good-natured banter at the hometown bar. Given Christian names never stood a chance.

But nicknames? Oh, what stories they told.

William Parkinson has spent more than 45 years as a reporter and editor at newspapers, the Associated Press and United Press International in this country and abroad. He’s mad about cats — and words. His column appears on Sundays. Email him at wparkinson@cumberlink.com.

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