Stowbody Gillingwater

And Doofus.

Bill Griffith delights in the names he gives his Dingburger characters; he seeks out names with satisfying phonological properties (tapping into the vein of phonesthemic associations in English), semantic associations (usually, like the phonological effects, subliminal and indefinite, rather than straightforwardly meaningful), and sociocultural connections. (Some discussion of Zippylicious names here.)

This time Zippy takes us to the family names Stowbody and Gillingwater (I like to think of them combined into a single name, with the last name Stowbody made into a patrician first name: Stowbody Gillingwater, called Stow for short), and the personal name Doofus:

As so often happens with Zippyesque names, the name Stowbody seemed hauntingly familiar to me. And, in fact, Ezra Stowbody is the (grumpy) president of Ionic Bank in Gopher Prairie MN, the setting of Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street (this seems to be Main Street Week on this blog; see the McCall illustration here), and he has a daughter Ella. (The name Ezra Stowbody reminded me — prosodically and at several other levels — of the wonderfully named Jonas Starkadder in Stella Gibbons’s wickedly parodic Cold Comfort Farm, set in the village of Howling SX.)

Then there’s Gillingwater. Probaby an allusion to Claude Gillingwater, a Hollywood actor who played cranky skinflints and irascible old men all his life.

Finally Doofus, one of those generic-fool common nouns often made into a nonce proper name (“Don’t give it to Doofus here; he’ll just drop it”). Here’s the complete OED draft entry of June 2010:

slang (orig. and chiefly U.S.).

[Origin uncertain: perhaps an alteration of GOOFUS n.1 Perhaps compare German doof stupid, dopey (early 20th cent.; < German regional (Low German) doof in this sense, spec. use of doof deaf: see DEAF adj.).]

A. adj. Characteristic of a stupid or foolish person; dumb, dopey. Cf. GOOFUS adj.

1967 C. L. COOPER Farm I. iii. 27 Miss Ann..smiling a greatbig [sic] stupid doofus grin. 1985 Campus Voice Apr. 22 He speaks in his best dufus voice. 2000 Sunday Herald (Glasgow) (Electronic ed.) 20 Feb., He’s a cartoon character in human form, what with those lanky doofus locks, those boggly eyes.

B. n. A foolish or stupid person, an idiot; also as a general term of contempt. Cf. GOOFUS n.1

[1955 J. LARDNER in N.Y. Times Mag. 25 Dec. 10/1 Doofus lost every round from the third, but they give him the duke!] 1977 Amer. Speech 1975 50 58 Don’t bother to see Dean Fairchild; he’ll do his best to make you feel like a doofus. 1989 L. MOORE in New Yorker 13 Nov. 53/2 We’re in our forties here. You can’t use words like ‘dork’ anymore… He’s not a dork. He’s a dufus. Maybe. Maybe a doink. 2001 L. BLOCK Hit List 203, I feel sorry for Mapes, but he’s sort of a doofus, isn’t he?

(The OED here sticks to its long-established practice of labeling attributive nouns, as in doofus grin, as adjectives.)

As is typical of nouns of disparagement, doofus has a bunch of sound-symbolic elements: the /d/ of deaf, dumb, dope, etc.; the /u/ and /f/ of fool and goof/goofy/goofus; the /u/ of puke, mook, etc.; the /f/ of fag, fop, fuck, etc.

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