Placeholder names
Posted: 27 February 2017 06:31 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I didn’t realize that there was a term for them but I mean names such as John Q Public, Joe Bloggs, John Doe, etc. There is a fascinating article over at the Oxford Dictionaries blog on placeholder names of several nations.

For instance the equivalent of Tom, Dick and Harry in Italian is Tizio, Caio, e Sempronio and their equivalent of the average Joe is Mario Rossi.

The three names Tizio, Caio, and Sempronio originate from legal jargon and apparently first appeared together in the works of Irnerio, an Italian jurist who taught Roman law at the University of Bologna in the 12th century. While those were also common male names in ancient Rome, they are believed to refer to three Roman politicians from the 2nd century BC: Tiberio Gracco, his brother Gaio Gracco, and their father Sempronio Gracco.

The Italian version of the average Joe is a certain Mario Rossi, with Mario and Rossi being the most frequently used first and last names in Italy. The moniker can often be found in Italian credit card advertisements and some might also remember it from the 1960s children’s TV show Mr. Rossi (Italian: Signor Rossi), in which the main character represents the Italian everyman.

In Sweden one of the Tom, Dick and Harry equivalents is kreti och pleti and only Biblical scholars like oeco, lionello or the Rebbe may recognize in that the Hebrew Cherethites and Pelethites, apparently a group of elite mercenaries employed by King David that are mentioned in the 2nd Book of Samuel.

In Germany they also use the Hebrew mercenaries, this time as Krethi und Plethi. Another term is Hinz und Kunz.

The expression apparently dates back to the 13th century and couples the former short forms of Heinrich (‘Hinz’) and Konrad (‘Kunz’), which were the names of many German rulers in the High Middle Ages. When a large number of people started naming their sons after those kings, it led to an increased use of Heinrich and Konrad. This way, Hinz und Kunz became a pejorative synonym for ‘everybody’.

Joe Bloggs is represented in German by Otto Normalverbraucher, the name of a soldier in a 1948 movie, and Everywoman is Lieschen Müller, popularized by a 1960s film although apparently the name can be traced back to the 1950s.

I think it wonderful that a 2nd century BC Roman family and a bunch of Hebrew mercenaries should find themselves representing the common man in Italy, Sweden and Germany some 2000-odd years after they lived! Also that article leaves me with a thirst for more national placeholders; I do hope the blog revisits this.

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Posted: 27 February 2017 06:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I posted on these back in 2008, and a commenter cited the same triplet you did: “I very much like the Italian Tom Dick & Harry; Tizio Caio e Sempronio. Nice classic touch.”

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Posted: 28 February 2017 01:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Thanks, aldi --- like you, I learned a new word. A favourite of mine is “....and Uncle Tom Cobley and all”, from the folk song “Widecombe Fair”, described by Wikipedia as a placeholder for et al. Unfortunately, it’s so abstruse that, even though many members of this forum, particularly those from the UK, would surely recognize it, in less elite company it would be met with uncomprehending stares. I long ago gave up trying to use it, but it’s still a favourite.

Nobody seems to know who the Cherethites and Pelethites were. The learned 18th century Biblical exegesist John Gill suggests that they were Cretans. Others say: Philistines. They were clearly hot-shot mercenary shock-troops, and certainly not Hebrews.

edit: and it’s nearer 3000 than 2000 years!

[ Edited: 28 February 2017 01:34 PM by lionello ]
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