Name Games

Cause for concern, wonderment: Leader of the free world calls the Russian leader Pootie-Poot

Brownie. Poppy. Turd Blossom. Who will deny that there's a certain frat-house poetry in the nicknames George W. Bush confers on those around him? And yet their very quotability threatens to dull our ears, with repetition, to their expressive nuances—to the subtle blend of camaraderie, contempt, and just plain crazy that so aptly reflects Bush's style of government. Fortunately, the Notable Names Database now offers a means of preserving our sense of wonder: The Dubya Nicknames registry, a list of every known Bush endearment, from Joe "Big Country" Allbaugh to Robert "The Adding Machine" Zoellick. Even dogged Bush-watchers are sure to find some jaw-dropper here, whether it's the inscrutably malicious "Balloonfoot" (Colin Powell), the inscrutably inscrutable "Tangent Man" (Andrew Card), or the focus-on-the-family "Bushie," which seems OK applied to the First Dad but turns several shades of weird as a pet name for Dubya's own wife.

Online since January, the Notable Names Database is a fast-growing, hyperlinked Who's Who, aiming to do for followers of current and historic events what the Internet Movies Database does for film buffs. "It mostly exists to document the connections between people, many of which are not obvious," notes the site's home page, with understatement. Yes, the pages listing every famous Skull and Bones member or every notable ever charged with pot possession may give predictable results, and even the revelation that Ann Coulter has second-degree links, via sex with Bill Maher, to black porn stars Heather Hunter and Coco Johnsen may strike some as only logical. But in the Dubya Nicknames page, the quiet encyclopedism of the NNDB proves itself an eye-opening tool of cultural critique—and a soothing alternative to the tub-thumping arguments of political bloggery. Sometimes you just want to let the data speak for themselves, and marvel.

 
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