The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

AN INSPIRATIONAL 2,400-YEAR-OLD INSULT
have you seen my cave?
So I'm reading this morning's Dear Abby column, which I find myself do less and less frequently because it's getting less and less interesting. What's more, today's is the kind I hate: Nothing but chime-ins on a past column--as if anyone retains the memory of a Dear Abby from 2-3 weeks ago!

However, something in this one caught my eye. Apparently, a bunch of people wrote in to show support for a little fat kid who was being picked on by the other kids. Here's one of the responses:
DEAR ABBY: The child in North Dakota should know that the Greek philosopher, Aristocles, was very short, too. His nicknames were "Shorty" or "Flatty." We know him today as Plato. -- FRANCIS A. BURKLE-YOUNG, GETTYSBURG COLLEGE

Sometimes it's nice to know another language, and to couple that with a fairly deep knowledge of history, because you get an insight that 99% of the population doesn't. Such is the case with this example of Plato.

What Francis said was true: The man who would write The Republic and Timaeus, among other tracts, was a dumpy little troll, even by ancient world standards (considering that nutrition and health wasn't up to today's standards). No doubt "Shorty" and "Flatty" were among the monikers given to him by his peers, both during childhood and as an adult.

We do indeed know him today as Plato. The real joke is, "Plato" was in fact yet another insulting nickname!

Plato, or in the Greek platone, means (both in ancient/archaic and modern Greek) "broad-shouldered". Basically, it's designed to be a descriptive compliment to a guy who's well-built or buff. As we've established, young Aristocles was anything but. The legends have it that as a kid, he was such a pipsqueak that his school instructors gave him the nickname Plato as a backhanded, sarcastic insult. (Some accounts say his mentor Socrates gave him the name; it's impossible to say for sure.) The idea, which is still alive today, is that you tag someone with a name that connotes the opposite of what he really is--like calling an ugly guy "handsome", for instance.

Obviously, Plato took on his new name and gave it distinction. Still, when considering this, the Dear Abby advice takes on a fun new meaning.