Fenwick the semi-generic

Just posted on this blog, this Zippy:


Zippy-God as the psychiatrist, a very Zippy-like generic Pinhead as the patient; he’s given the name Fenwick in the third panel. The artist is fond of Fenwick.

[Added 5/25/18. The address term in the last panel is apparently Fenwich (with an H) rather than Fenwick (with a K). (All the examples below have Fenwick, however.) For now, I’ll treat Fenwich as a variant of the much more common (in the real world and in the Zippyverse) Fenwick.]

Fenwick the name. Bill Griffith dotes on names — place names, personal names, product names (Vaseline and Cheez Doodles above) — that he finds remarkable, delightful, or risible. Fenwick strikes some people as a nerdish pedestrian lower-middle-class name with pretensions of grandeur, and that makes it funny. Not just in the Zippy strip, but in the Dudley Do-Right segments of Rocky and Bullwinkle, which feature Inspector Fenwick of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and his daughter Nell Fenwick:

(#2) The Fenwicks, Dudley, and his horse Horse

and in books by Leonard Wibberley and movies made from them. From Wikipedia:

(#3) The duchy’s coat of arms

The Duchy of Grand Fenwick is a tiny fictional country created by Leonard Wibberley in a series of comedic novels beginning with The Mouse That Roared (1955), which was later made into a film [starring Peter Sellers].

In the novels, Wibberley goes beyond the merely comic, placing the tiny nation (15 square miles/39 square kilometres) in absurd situations so as to comment satirically on contemporary politics and events.

… The Duchy takes its name from its founder, the English knight Sir Roger Fenwick who, while employed by France, settled there with his followers in 1370. Thanks to Sir Roger, the national language is English.

The Duchy, ruled by the Duchess Gloriana XII, is described as bordering Switzerland and France in the Alps.

Fenwick starts as a place name (for places in the English-Scottsh border country), with elements fenn ‘marsh’ and wic ‘farm’. From that,  it becomes a surname, for families originally from these places; many people with that family name are listed in a Wikipedia entry. From the surname comes a (relatively rare) masculine given name; a Wikipedia page lists:

Fenwick W. English, Fenwick Lionel Kelly, Fenwick Lansdowne, Fenwick Lawson, Fenwick Skirmshire, Fenwick Smith, R. Fenwick Taylor; and the fictional Fenwick Travers, Fenwick Babbitt

Both surnames (Zwicky) and personal names (Arnold) can be used for both reference and address in English, so we can’t be sure whether an occurrences of Fenwick in a Zippy strip  is a surname or a personal name.

Generic personal names. Some very common proper names, especially personal names, have become conventionally specialized in generic use, to refer to or (especially) to address someone whose name you don’t know, or someone you are treating as a mere representative of a class of people (without regard to their identity).

English Joe has a fairly large set of such uses, some illustrated here:

Hey, Joe, got a cigarette? (to a stranger)

Talked to this guy at a party. Joe says he knows how to make money quick.

He’s an ordinary Joe, a good joe.

What do you say, Joe College? ‘What do you say, college boy?’

I bought it off Joe Blow / Joe Schmo on the street. (i.e., from some average-looking stranger)

In some of these uses, the name has the syntax of a common noun, in others proper (whatever spelling is used; as with genericized trade names like Kleenex / kleenex, it’s not always clear whether the upper-case or lower-case spelling is appropriate).

Narrative semi-generic names. More subtly, in  short narratives about characters with unknown histories — like jokes and cartoons — story-tellers are free to assign place-holding names to their characters for vividness (rather than using common-nominal referential (this guy) or vocative (buddy) expressions). Usually, a writer will pick something bland, but if you’re Bill Griffith, with his fondness for onomastic oddness, you’ll go for something more memorable. Like Fenwick.

The Zippy Fenwicks. Above, Fenwick the patient on the therapist’s couch. On to Fenwick the diner counterman, in the 11/30/13 posting “At Peg’s Diner”:

(#2) Pour it again, Joe

What we expect here is, in fact, Joe, not Fenwick. From Wikipedia:

Joe’s Diner is a placeholder name for a fictional or hypothetical everyman’s restaurant. Although there are franchises that use the name, its rhetorical use is often to describe a small, local business contrasted against large businesses or franchises. The phrase “Eat at Joe’s” is a complementary fictional or hypothetical typical advertisement for such an establishment, and has itself become a snowclone in the form of X at Joe’s, Eat at Y’s, or simply X at Y’s.

Then there’s Little Zippy’s buddy Fenwick:

(#3) From 7/13/08

And, remarkably, a rival to Zippy-God:

(#4) From 8/9/17

And finally as one of a pair of AnyPinheads, Fenwick and Farnsworth:

(#4) From 1/23/18

Whenever you need to name a character, a Fenwick will be there.

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