Up Close and Personal: Using Nicknames to Navigate Social and Semantic Space
Nicknames are names with a distinctively social function. Like honorifics and diminutives, they mark and modulate social relations, most obviously by expressing intimacy and endearment, but also by belittling and demeaning. Like given names, they denote their referents via arbitrary convention rather than descriptive satisfaction; but unlike them, they are often bestowed because they ‘fit’ in some intuitively compelling way. These features of nicknames, in general and for specific cases, are matters of common knowledge which regulate our linguistic behavior in systematic ways. What, then, is their semantic status, and what can they tell us about language and meaning? I propose that they help motivate a more ecumenical model of linguistic meaning in terms of conventions for appropriate use, which interact with but are not reducible to the more familiar, truth-conditional compositional ‘core’.