The Dickson Poon School of Law

(As you might guess from the title, this posting treats several English expressions of varying degrees of offensiveness, so some readers might want to avoid it.)

A message from Gadi Niram a month ago:

I can’t get past the name of this school: https://www.kcl.ac.uk/law
The Dickson Poon School of Law in the University of London

— and wondering if poon doesn’t have the meaning in BrE that it does in AmE. (And then there’s the dick in Dickson.)

Briefly, the answer is: no, the lexical item poon ‘vagina, pussy’ is largely unknown in BrE. But it is an estimable Chinese name, especially in Hong Kong. If they had known about the crude offensiveness of poon in AmE, Dickson Poon’s family might have chosen another variant of their name in English, say Pan. Or maybe not; they might have decided that it’s their family’s English name and they’re proud of it. (I will compare it to the Hindi surname often spelling Dikshit in English.)

Then there’s the question of why the University of London has anything named after Dickson Poon. That’s where I’ll start.

Sir Dickson Poon. From Wikipedia:

(#1)

Sir Dickson Poon, Kt, CBE (… born 19 June 1956 [so he’s now in his early 60s]), is a Hong Kong businessman in the luxury goods retailing sector. Poon is the executive chairman of his Hong Kong listed company Dickson Concepts (DCIL), which owns companies including Harvey Nichols and S. T. Dupont. [Harvey Nichols is “a luxury British department store chain with a flagship store in Knightsbridge, London. It sells fashion collections for men and women, fashion accessories, beauty products, wine and food” (link). S.T. Dupont is “a Paris-based brand name and manufacturer of lighters, collectible pens, handbags, perfumes …, cigarettes …, and recently other gadgets” (link).]

… Along with Sammo Hung, Poon founded D&B Films Co., Ltd which released action and martial arts motion pictures

… In November 2010 Poon donated GB£10 million to St Hugh’s College, Oxford for the construction of the Dickson Poon China Centre, which will bring together, for the first time, academics from a range of research interests related to China, provide accommodation for the college’s postgraduate students, and house the Chinese Collection of the Bodleian Library.

Poon’s donation to St. Hugh’s College was followed two years later by a 20 million GBP donation to King’s College London to fund the existing law faculty. It was the largest donation by an individual to the University in its history. In recognition of his donation, the law school at King’s College London was renamed The Dickson Poon School of Law.

The surname Poon. From Wikipedia:

Pān is the Mandarin pinyin romanization of the East Asian surname 潘. It is listed 43rd in the Song dynasty classic text Hundred Family Surnames. It is romanized as P’an in Wade–Giles; Poon [in Hong Kong], Pon, or Pun [in Macau] in Cantonese; Phua in Hokkien and Teochew.

The personal name Dickson. This is a venerable Scottish surname (with the variant spelling Dixon) meaning ‘son of Richard’ (cf. the surname Richardson), then subject to the very common LN > FN shift (cf. Richardson Dilworth, mayor of Philadelphia 1956-62). A Wikipedia article maintains that the given name Dickson (so spelled) is a male given name mainly found in African countries of the former British Empire (so that Dickson Poon is something of an outlier) — as opposed to the spelling variant Dixon, which is widely available as a male baby name.

Parallels. First, the name pattern

English FN (< LN) + Chinese LN

is a fairly common one for English-speaking men of Chinese descent. In my circle of acquaintances, there is Thomson Yeh, a Chinese-American computer engineer and shapenote singer (which is how I came to know him). His name is the combination of English FN (< LN) Thomson ‘son of Thomas’ (with variants Thompson and Thomason) with the Chinese surname Yeh. On the latter, from Wikipedia:

Ye is the pinyin romanization of the Chinese surname written 葉 in traditional character and 叶 in simplified character. It is listed 257th in the Song dynasty classic text Hundred Family Surnames, and is the 43rd most common surname in China, with a population of 5.8 million as of 2008. Ye is also romanized Yeh in Wade-Giles; Yip, Ip, and Jip in Cantonese; Iap, Yap, Yapp, and Yeap in Hakka and Minnan.

Then for a parallel in inadvertent obscenity, there’s the Hindi name sometimes spelled in English as Dikshit. From Wikipedia:

Dikshit (also spelled as Dixit or Dikshitar; Hindi: दीक्षित), is a Hindu Brahmin family name. [The SH is a transliteration for the retroflex fricative [ṣ] of Sanskrit and Hindi, rather than the palato-alveolar fricative [š] of English.]

The word is an adjectival form of the Sanskrit word diksha, meaning provider of knowledge. Dikshita in Sanskrit derives itself as a person involved in scientific studies, and literally translates as “one who has received initiation or one who is initiated”. Historically, [the] Dixit name has been usually associated with professions related to knowledge, generally used among teachers and scholars. … The Dikshit/Dixit surname is usually associated with upper-class Hindu Brahmins in India especially in North India.

… The name is often converted to “Dixit” in English[-speaking] countries due to undesired similarities [between] the name and multiple strung-together English profanities [dick+ shit].

The AmE obscenity poon. Stronger than pussy, approximating cunt for some speakers. From GDoS:

noun poon-1 [abbr. of poontang]: 1 the vagina; also the male genitals. [1st cite from the 1968 novel M*A*S*H]  2 a woman or women in general when seen purely in a sexual context. [1st cite in Shulman’s Rally Round the Flag, Boys!] 3. (US gay) the anus. [in Rodgers Queens’ Vernacular] 4. sexual intercourse. 5. general term of abuse. [Showing in 2 the common metonymy from sexual bodypart to person as a whole; in 3 the common metaphorical transfer from female sexcavity to gay male sexcavity; in 4 a common metonymy from bodypart to a characteristic activity in which it’s involved; and in 5 the common generalization from a person (female or male) viewed as a sexual object, hence negatively, to a general slur or term of abuse (‘worthless person’ and the like).]

GDoS — also DARE — views poon simply as an abbreviation of (equally or more offensive) poontang and so gives very little information about its social distribution; but abbreviations quite often diverge in their uses and social profiles from the expressions they abbreviate, and I believe that’s the case here, except that I have no information about these matters for poon. For poontang, however…

From GDoS:

noun poontang [?Fr. putain a prostitute]: 1 sexual intercourse. [1st cite 1927 John O’Hara letter] … 3. the vagina. [1947 on] 4. a woman or women in general, when seen purely in a sexual context [1952 on] …

Senses 1 and 3 here are hard to disentangle; typical cites involve men expressing a desire, or need, for poontang, which can be read as referring to the sexual activity or the sexual bodypart, as in this joke texty from a Twitter account under the name poontang:

(#2)

(There’s a frequent association, not noted in GDoS or DARE, of the word poontang with servicemen of one kind or another.)

From DARE:

noun poontang [Prob < [Creole] Fr putain a prostitite]: 1 also poon: Sexual intercourse; the female genitals; by ext. a woman, or women, as sexual object — freq used in ref to Black women. org Sth, now more widespread now esp freq among Black Speakers.

Smitherman’s 1994 Black Talk characterizes it as a euphemism for pussy, so speakers clearly differ on where these terms are placed on the offensiveness; in my northern white experience, poontang is considerable raunchier than pussy.

The male insult term dick. I’ve alluded to this usage on this blog but not actually treated it in any detail. From GDoS:

noun dick-1 [generic use of proper name]: 1 a man, a fellow. [1st cite 1592] … 5 the penis. [clear cite in 1836, possible earlier uses] … 10 a fool, an idiot, any offensive male. [1st cite (American) 1967 K. Kolb Getting Straight He looked the type. A dick, all right. Later cites British (1991 Yer look like a right dick) and Australian (2003 As long as Bunny didn’t give himself away as a total dick by speaking…). [on the sense development from 5 to 10, cf. prick]

In many places on American tv, you can get away with deprecatory dick, but not bodypart dick (which is too vivid).

Bodypart and deprecatory dick can contaminate the proper name Dick, thus giving a bit of an edge to the name Dickson, especially with that spelling, and adding to the offense of Dikshit.

One Response to “The Dickson Poon School of Law”

  1. Gadi Says:

    I had read Dickson Poon as being akin to “dicks and poon”, which was a nice interpretation because it included the whole name.

    British English does have “poonanny”, used frequently by Sasha Baron Cohen as Ali G on “Da Ali G Show”. When I ran the name Dickson Poon by a friend from Leeds, he made no connection between “poon” and “poonanny”. He said the name Dickson was a bit unusual, but there was nothing odd or funny about it as far as he was concerned.

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