Sticks and stones can break my bones…

By Cindy Phillips
… but words can hurt like heck, too.
Cyber bullying is just plain sad. We hear tragic stories on a regular basis, especially involving teens. Social media sites pose a venue for people to lash out at others in an undercover format. Is it human nature to be more brazen when we can be anonymous? Seems rather cowardly to me.
When I was a teenager, the height of technology was a transistor radio. If you wanted to say something to another person, you had three options – call them on the phone, write them a note (which was passed in the hallway between periods) or say it to their face.
We did have slam books. Someone would buy either a spiral bound notebook or the old-fashioned black and white marble covered composition book, and each page would be headed up with the name of a classmate. The book would be passed around so others could write comments on your designated page.
In most cases, the comments were harmless – “cute”, “super cool”, “smart and funny” and “great athlete” were typical comments, though you would find the occasional “stuck up” or “dresses like a dork” comment. But unless you had an innate talent of disguising your handwriting, everyone would know who wrote it and you could be called on the carpet.
When we were kids, it was pretty darn common to label others with nicknames. But in looking back, I truly believe most of these were terms of endearment as opposed to attempted slander. We really weren’t trying to hurt anyone’s feelings or intimidate. In fact, most nicknames were derived from humor.
Chickie – I don’t know why, but in high school it seemed we had an inordinate amount of Chickies. I understood the basis of one – Tony Ciccarelli’s nickname was a shortening of his last name. In our neighborhood, we had lots of long last names. We were truly a melting pot. Getting through my high school graduation with 1,200 seniors and a string of last names all containing a multitude of syllables was an arduous task.
On the other hand, I have no idea where Chickie Vasquez got his nickname. In fact, I have no idea what his real name was – but I do know he had the largest afro of anyone in Brentwood High School that year.
Stinky – every group of kids had a stinky. It didn’t necessarily have anything to do with them smelling bad, although there were times it was associated with really rank sneakers or a bologna sandwich left in a locker over a school break.
You only had to have one smelly episode to get tagged with the nickname for a lifetime. I guarantee there are distinguished, successful, gray-haired men dressed in thousand dollar suits walking into 40-year high school reunions to the sounds of, “Hey, Stinky, how the hell are you?”
The nickname Stinky was only given to boys. I don’t know the reasoning, but I never knew a girl who had the nickname Stinky.
Tease – now this was a girl’s-only nickname. Sexual prowess was a lot more inhibited before the big revolution led by the flower power, hippy generation. Escapades were measured in terms of a baseball diamond. Every boy set out with high expectations of hitting a home run, but most girls ended the game at first base.
Girls who lingered on first base but who gave the impression that you might be able to steal second were labeled a tease. I think about 99 percent of the female students in high school got that nickname at some point. It wasn’t a name that stuck for long. Once you started dating a new guy, it was as if the slate was wiped clean. Of course if you dated the entire team in one semester, the nickname could receive long-term validation based on shared locker room stories.
Chubby – though childhood obesity is alarmingly common today, an overweight teen back in the day was more of a rarity. But every group seemed to have one member, usually a boy, whose mom was buying his clothes in the Big and Tall Shop. There were many derivatives of the nickname Chubby including Chubsy Ubsy (taken from the Little Rascals character), Tubby, Butterball (named after a plump Thanksgiving turkey brand), Fat Albert (Bill Cosby’s cartoon character) and Chunky (happened to be one of the best chocolate candy bars on the planet as professed in the commercials by Arnold Stang). Most guys who attained the nickname Chubby actually wore like a badge of honor.
Skinny – today this would be considered a compliment. Though we all wanted to look good in high school, a curvy figure was looked upon as perfection. It wasn’t until Twiggy stormed the fashion scene in the mid-60s that looking frail and emaciated became a goal.
Brainiac – this was a nickname for someone who was super smart. This was someone with top scores on the SATs and college scholarships. If you were a brainiac, you probably didn’t mind this nickname and it was less offensive than nerd.
Our high school was a conglomeration of cliques, each faction branded with a group nickname. The greasers wore leather jackets and their hair slicked back – hence the term. Jocks were the athletes and preppies had the clean-cut All-American look wearing khakis and sweater vests (think Troy Donohue). Somehow we all co-existed without much brouhaha, though there was the occasional lunch room fight.
I always told my daughters to never say anything behind someone’s back that you wouldn’t say to their face. I believe they took it to heart and I hope to someday hear them giving the same wise advice to their children. And I hope they also teach them good personal hygiene so they never get stuck with the nickname “Stinky.”
Cindy Phillips is a columnist for The Mountain Times,

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