Funny Names in British History

“When it’s three o’clock in New York, it’s still 1938 in London.”–Bette Midler

When one thinks about British History, the names that come to mind are not all that funny.   Funny Names?  Maybe funny numbers?  Henry VIII…Richard III…Elizabeth II?

No?  Well, don’t despair Anglophiles, there are some goodies out there.  They may not be the pillars of Western Civilization–but they are in fact infamous, eponymous and in at least one case, quite ridiculous.   So here’s goes with three of my favorites.

Ned Ludd,  or possibly Ned Ludlam, Edward Ludlam or Ludnam (17??–18??)  Although you may never have heard of Ned Ludd,  that’s really OK, because no one is exactly sure whether such a person ever actually existed.  In fact,  there is only one news account extent of this man and his exploits.  An 1811 article in The Nottingham Review, recounted the tale of a young weaver who, angered by harsh corporal punishment and taunting by youths, smashed two knitting frames in the factory where he worked.  The story was sort of corroborated by one John Blackner, in his 1811, book The History of Nottingham.  He tells a tale of a young weaver named Ludnam, who, angered by his father’s criticism of his work, smashed a knitting frame into a heap of junk.   If this eveidence is not flimsy enough, consider that these alleged incidents supposedly happened over thirty years earlier in 1779.

So what’s the point?  Well, even if you haven’t heard of Ludd, you almost certainly have heard of Luddites.  Protesting weavers  c. 1812 took to smashing knitting frames over fear that automation would take their jobs.  They used the story of Ludd as  a rallying cry, and came to be called Luddites.  They referred to him as King Ludd or  Captain Ludd,  and angry letters to textile factory owners were signed “Ned Ludd.”  At one point, stories even circulated that he lived in Sherwood Forest–as sort of latter day Robin Hood.  Maybe he spent his time there weaving hoodies.

To this day, those who oppose new technology of any kind–not just workplace automation–are referred to as Luddites.  Hmmm…when robots start writing my blog  I might smash a knitting frame.

A contemporary Guy Fawkes mask.  Would you rent your flat to this guy?

A contemporary Guy Fawkes mask. Would you rent your flat to this guy?

Guy “Guido” Fawkes (1570-1606) was a militant Catholic who fought against the Protestant Reformation in England and on the European mainland.  As a key figure and organizer in the notorious but failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605, he was one of the earliest anti-state terrorists.  Fawkes used the name Guido when he fought as a mercenary with the Catholic Spanish against Dutch reformers in the 80 years war.  I can find no reason as to why he referred to himself as “Guido”–unless he was trying disguise himself as an Italian.  In 1605 he became involved in a plot to assassinate King James I and return a Catholic to the English throne.  He and his cohorts obtained the lease to a loft beneath the House of Lords.  Fawkes was put in charge of a massive store of gunpowder there that was to be used to blow the place up, but the plot was exposed on November 5, 1605 by a an anonymous letter.  He was arrested and executed on January 31, 1606.  Guy Fawkes day is still celebrated–if you can call it a celebration–every November 5 in England.

William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930) was a famous, if absent-minded Oxford fellow and the eponymous source of the term spoonerism.   As legend goes, Spooner was prone to swapping the initial consonants of key words in sentences.  To whit, the queen is dear  became the dean in queer.   Spooner hated the term, and only ever admitted to a few of the gaffes–indeed some of those attributed to him may be apocryphal.  One story has it that, intending to comment to a young lady, “you’ll be mad as a Hatter, of course,”

Shel Silverstein's homage to Spooner

Shel Silverstein’s homage to Spooner

instead said, “you’ll be had as a matter of course.”   Science author Douglas Hofstatder is attributed as having coined the terms kniferism and forkerism to refer to the similar linguistic gaffe of transposing entire syllables rather than just consonants, as in, hypodeemic nerdle or Hoobert Heever.  So my suggestion is, if both transpositions occur, such as in nypodeemic herdle we should refer to that as a sporkerism.  I also suggest you check your dentures if you ever say that.

Sources:  mostly Wikipedia

Follow my personal brand of madness a millennium

Follow my personal brand of madness at millennium


About Mark Sackler

"The best way to predict the future is to invent it."-Alan Kay; Let's invent a better future, together.
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12 Responses to Funny Names in British History

  1. kerbey says:

    Now I know what Luddites are. I must say, if I were the employer and my employees had taken to smashing knitting frames, I’d most certainly want to fire them and use robots. Guy Fawkes sounds like a Catholic terrorist. They celebrate someone who wanted to blow up innocent people? Something must be lost in translation…

  2. I’ll have to try a sporkerism the next time I order fast food. 🙂

  3. ksbeth says:

    i think i saw a sporkerism at taco bell.

  4. Arto says:

    When I think of luddites, I can easily image a guy named Ned being of that persuasion. This makes perfect sense.

    Spooner is one of my favorite characters. They should make a bumbling comedy about him one day where he saves the day by accidentally deciphering a very simple secret code.

  5. Dave says:

    Spoonerisms are so awesome…. my favorite one might be “The Lord is a shoving leopard” rather than “a loving shepherd”… great stuff! I learned a ton from this post, and it was supes entertaining!

  6. Pingback: A Special Inflatable News Report from England | The Blog of Funny Names

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