Monday, November 12, 2007


My friend Redwood can get a little red between the ears. He’s an excitable sort who’s furrowed brow comes with a sprinkle of a smile and a chortle or two, which makes it all the more amusing. Several moons ago, he tipped his pint and commenced a diatribe about a colleague, culminating in an eyebrow-crunching oration: Whatta scallywag, I’ll tell ya!

I froze. Not because of his emotion, but due to my discovery of a new take: Scallywag. Engaged, I dug deeper:

Scal-ly-wag [skal-ee-wag] – noun: a deceitful and unreliable scoundrel

Wood’s vent conjured a few similar personifications.

Ferret, for one. (I bump heads with a local, anything-but-allocentric character who half-lovingly reminds me of mustela putorius furo [a weasellike, usually albino mammal].)

Fathead is another. In the 70s, Fatheads were Grateful Dead-dancing listeners of KFAT in the Bay Area. Today, they’re egotists who have a supreme sense of professional being, shielding an insecurity of social interaction.

Bozo’s a good one too, with credit to Guy Kawasaki’s credo: Don’t let the bozos grind you down. Kawasaki contends there are two kinds of bozos:
  • The slovenly bozo with no credibility.
  • The successful bozo, which is the most dangerous since people tend to believe them.
Scallywag, ferret, fathead, and bozo thinking can be harmful if you employ an Eyeore mindset or if you lose site – through your engrossment with the said character – of the big picture. Think Scott McNealy and his Microsoft must perish quest that nearly killed Sun. (Not sure if McNealy ever referred to Gates as a scallywag, ferret, fathead, or bozo.)

But, I can think of numerous bury-the-scallywag, catch-the-ferret, deflate-the-fathead, or pop-the-bozo scenarios where such thinking was healthy (though, perhaps, too testosterone-ridden tribal?). A common rallying point is created, a target identified, collective motivation corralled. Which works if, in trying to prove the scallywag/ferret/fathead/bozo wrong, you accomplish your objective. And, most importantly, share a chortle or two along the way.

Post-script (18 Nov. 07): Dug up the below from historian Ted Tunnell on the origins of scally/scalaway:
Reference works such as Joseph E. Worcester's 1860 Dictionary of the English Language defined scalawag as "A low worthless fellow; a scapegrace." Scalawag was also a word for low-grade farm animals. In early 1868 a Mississippi editor observed that scalawag "has been used from time immemorial to designate inferior milch cows in the cattle markets of Virginia and Kentucky." That June the Richmond Enquirer concurred; scalawag had heretofore "applied to all of the mean, lean, mangy, hidebound skiny [sic], worthless cattle in every particular drove."

No comments: