Calvin becomes a personage

Two Calvin and Hobbes cartoons recently — yesterday and today (originally from 4/8 and 4/9/91) — in my comics feed, in which Calvin takes on a title (the epithet the Bold) and adopts illeism (referring to himself in the third person):



Yes, it’s all about linguistics.

Epithets. In particular, those of the form the + Adj and the + N as extensions of a personal name, especially personal names of rulers and other notable figures: Charles the Bald, William the Conqueror. That’s the pattern that Calvin wants to use for his new name. Calvin the Bold will rule with an iron hand.

There are a number of similar patterns, for example the one in Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti (a Mafia boss) — in which the epithet The Enforcer can stand on its own as a name for Nitti (You’ll have to see The Enforcer), while the Bald is very peculiar as a name for the ruler (??You’ll have to see the Bald).

And there are prenominal epithets as well, as in Fatty Arbuckle.

In fact, English has quite a profusion of epithet patterns, with different syntax and different uses in discourse (distributed in different sociocultural contexts, at different times and places).

I was hoping that someone had systematically mapped out a substantial portion of this onomastic territory, and maybe someone has, but I’ve been unable to find no such discussion available on-line.

Illeism. Another set of usages often associated with grandiosity, though again there’s an assortment of patterns and functions (and sociocultural concomitants). For some discussion, see my Language Log posting of 7/29/07 “Illeism and its relatives”.

I was somewhat surprised that the six-year-old Calvin knew the technical term third person, but then the character is often precociously knowledgeable.


6 Responses to “Calvin becomes a personage”

  1. thnidu Says:

    Why do you call “bold” and “bald” nouns here instead of adjectives?

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      ?? I say that the the + N and the + Adj patterns are both available as epithets, leaving it to the reader to see that Calvin the Bold and Charles the Bald both have the Adj variant; perhaps I should have sledgehammered that home. I certainly do *not* say that bold and bald are adjectives.

  2. thnidu Says:

    Ooops, sorry, I was reading too fast!

  3. John Lawler Says:

    If you can put “the” in front of them, they’re nouns. Nouning adjectives is just as easy as verbing nouns.

  4. Ton van der Wouden Says:

    Dr. Lutz: May I ask you something? Why do you insist on referring to yourself in the third person? It is intensely irritating!

    Hercule Poirot: Because, Doctor Lutz, it helps Poirot achieve a healthy distance from his genius.


  5. Robert Coren Says:

    but then the character is often precociously knowledgeable.

    As child characters created by adults (especially in comic strips and television comedies) so often are.

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