Axis of Snollygosters
November 14, 1953 — The Sydney Morning Herald
Here’s a frivolous editorial about name-calling in The Sydney Morning Herald. They noted their latter two examples as representative of insults pertaining to parentage, when actually, Mossadegh’s outburst towards his court-appointed lawyer, too, belonged in that group. His words were translated as “You’re the son of a burnt father.”
This has been an unusually abusive week in foreign affairs. Dr. Mussadiq has addressed his counsel [Col. Jalil Bozorghmer] as a “burned face,” an expression which is said to be very rude in Persia. An anti-Red Chinese prisoner-of-war in Korea called a Communist an “egg of a turtle.” And ex-president Truman referred to his Republican attackers as “snollygosters,” one of his friends later explaining that snollygoster was an old Southern word for a person born out of wedlock.
These expressions all sound quaint to Australian ears. It is hard to imagine a brawl starting here because one man called another a turtle’s egg. Yet if you address a Chinese that way, from all accounts, he is apt to reply ominously: “When you call me that, smile!” Snollygoster, it is true, has a more disagreeable sound, in some of the rougher Sydney bars it might be rash to call the customers snollygosters, even if they did not know what it meant.
Both the Chinese phrase and Mr. Truman’s are clearly examples of the international class of insult which consists of a reflection on the character of the recipient’s parents. It is not clear why the Chinese should think it so uncomplimentary to suggest that a man’s mother was a turtle. One can only assume that they feel more strongly than we do about turtles.
Conversely, no doubt, a Chinese would be mystified by the remarks passed at an Australian Rules football match. It is probably a good thing, on the whole, that each country should use only its town distinctive terms of abuse, we have enough in Australia already without importing such bizarre additions as egg of a turtle and snollygoster. If a Chinese or American should hurl such expressions at us, a dignified reply would surely be: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but foreign names will never hurt me.”