On this island nicknames have a long and fascinating history. They often take the form of an abbreviated baptismal name, called a ‘pet name’, given to a loved one in the family by parents and close relatives.
In times past parents and grandparents also gave a child a ‘false’ (nonn-savane) that was not recorded in any baptismal document. That name was allegedly to trick the devil and his evil spirits from calling such a child by his or her baptismal name in the dead of night and confusing them.
Then there is a third category of nicknames given in jest, often by total strangers. In its various shades of meaning such nicknames or epithets may be used to criticize or ridicule or to uplift. A successful athlete called a horse or lion was meant in admiration. On the other hand, to a person of small stature who befriends another of larger influence, the sobriquet ‘poodle’ imports ridicule rather than compliment. Any positive connotation of ‘poodle’ may arise from the well known affection of that breed to its master and vice-versa.
When a certain member of parliament was referred to by a prime minister as a poodle, no one denied the vicious and derogatory venom with which the word was spewed. The vile attack left many dumfounded. It was meant to hurt and ridicule. Why such animosity? What did Guy Joseph do to deserve the nickname poodle? Was it when he befriended and supported Allen Chastanet as political leader of the United Workers Party? Curiously, some argue that the sobriquet levelled at Guy was more befitting the one who spat it. Would politicians closest to the Chastanet family before they were first elected to office be cast as poodles?
To the observant the reference to the canine family may also describe a person whose table manners resemble that of a poodle. Not surprisingly, the man who the name ‘poodle’ was meant to ridicule, insult and hurt has emerged as one of the best performers amongst parliamentarians present and past. And as the poodle rose and spoke, false gods and naked emperors were falling in plain view around him.
In keeping with the poodle sobriquet, therefore, one may say with some assurance that the name-callers have proven themselves more useless canines at the feet of would-be investors and con-men than Guy. At the same time, the one who had been labelled ‘poodle’ has matured and grown far beyond expectations. In the process he has mastered the art of speaking fearlessly in the face of corruption and inept management. Had it not been for the infamy which slavery has bequeathed the Caribbean man, I would wager that that poodle would someday ascend the prime minister’s chair on this island. Alas, this is Saint Lucia, not Trinidad!
The spiteful name-calling in parliament reminds us that we must more closely examine the skewed degreed personalities who present themselves to us at elections. During the budget debate last week certain insults were hurled at a minister of the government pointing to his small size. What kind of thinking permits such school-ground name-calling, and the slang gibberish on the block, to find its way into the parliament of an island boasting two Nobel laureates?
As we study history we see Napoleon Bonaparte of France, George Charles of Saint Lucia and several men of less than average stature leaving their influence and impressive marks behind them. Given the St. Lucia Labour Party propensity for ridiculing small-statured men, is it any wonder that they no longer celebrate their first leader, George F.L. Charles?
Who else but an arrogant and ungrateful leadership would treat smaller than average persons in their own party with such disdain and disrespect? And it doesn’t seem to matter how qualified such persons are. Besides, who but a half-wit would criticize a man’s height and size, instead of shredding his arguments to pieces while offering alternative solutions in a debate as important as an annual budget? At a time when citizens are hoping and praying for a reduction in the national debt plus investments to grow the economy, it begs the question: is there some deeper psychological meaning to such ridicule in the parliament?
Little wonder that such critics and their hacks prefer to indulge in fake news on Facebook rather than challenge the obstacles in the path of national economic growth. When will such childish behaviour end? The crux of such diversion by inept parliamentarians is meant to keep their poor followers in a state of ignorance and, by so doing, teach the ignorant to see only ‘de parti’ colours and nothing else. Feeding their supporters with lies and disinformation will never cease unless new knowledge prevails. And herein lays the dilemma of our politics. It seeks to ridicule and debase even in an annual budget debate, rather than to praise and uplift.
Guy Joseph the politician exhibits two desirable qualities: he reads and researches his work and he prays for divine guidance. These two attributes allow him to speak with the right tone and passion. Like many perceptive West Indians, he continues to erode the rough edges of his native accent and increasingly delivers his parliamentary contributions without artificiality or crude inflection.
Thankfully, what God bless, no man curse. It was therefore pure joy to see the lovable little poodle transformed into the roaring lion of South East Castries. His recent budget presentation was that of a man on a mission. A man who had been transformed from his mini-bus business twenty or so years ago, into the accomplished spokesman and advocate he is today. Guy Joseph was, indeed, the poodle that roared like a lion during the budget debate. He is a presence deserving of our support.