Name games | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Now that Lewis "Scooter" Libby's prison sentence has been commuted -- because it was "excessive," according to President George W. "W" Bush -- the question arises: Is noting newsmakers' nicknames "excessive," too?

In an exhaustive six-month study of Pittsburgh's two dailies, beginning late last December, City Paper has determined that the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review far outpaces the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in publicizing these embarrassing tidbits -- seemingly without pattern or plan, but with obvious passion.

In a tally of nicknames other than diminutives ("Robert 'Bobbie'" just doesn't count) that ignored sports, arts and obits -- where pet names are paramount -- CP found that the Trib used 123 different terms of endearment, as opposed to the P-G's mere 75.

Where the P-G was content on July 3 to list all 27 of the state's "Operation Black Tar" drug arrestees by name, age and hometown, the Trib added the all-important news that leader Julio Ramierez-Garcia sometimes likes to be called "Manny."

On June 24, the Trib featured the record sextumvirate of Iraq war criminal "Chemical" Ali Hassan al-Majid, Squirrel Hill restaurateur Albert "Speedy" Grumet, Army Sgt. Steven "Book" Booker, pierogie-eating contestants Ian "The Invader" Hickman and "Tiny" Tim Rauscheder, and Elizabeth "Teeny" Smith, wife of a World War I soldier.

Given the Trib's relentless hunt for pet names (on April 30, for instance, it featured father and son Fayette County contractors -- the Clarences "Bud" and "Bud Light" Brangard), publishing such information has its risks. On Jan. 11, the Trib quoted soon-to-be convicted kidnapper Jeff "Jafarnia" Williams, while the P-G had Jafarnia "Jeff" Williams in its pages. Neither ran a correction.

The P-G occasionally holds its own in the pseudonymous arts. On June 5, the Trib ran an entirely nickname-free murder trial story while the P-G name-checked one "Chico," a "Black" and a "G." And when in early April both papers profiled local bartender Angelo Cammarata and both quoted customer Charles "Blackie" Blackstone, only the P-G gave us Cammarata's three extra monikers, "Camm" "Ang" and "Mr. C," while offering shoutouts to patrons with stage names "Little Blackie" and "Snake."

Neither paper could resist a good nom de guerre, referencing such mobsters alive and dead as "Matty the Horse," "Jackie the Lackey," "Chinky," "The Clown," "The German," "The Ant" and "No Legs."

Still, even well-known nicknames seem to come and go from print for no discernible reason. Pittsburgh school-board member Floyd McCrea is "Skip" on Feb. 7 and March 16 in the P-G. But "Skip" was skipped in half a dozen pieces previously, even though McCrea's nickname has been printed there since at least 2001. On March 24, Che Guevara even regained his given name, "Ernesto," in the P-G, only to lose it again there three days later.

Mock-monikered men still far outpaced women, who got only 16 nicknames (besides "Teeny") in the past six months: "Many Weasels," "Ibby," "Zelda," "Sally," "Dolly," "Melon," "Trina," "Slim," "Tete," "T," "Missy," "Rudy," "Black Cherry," "Spice," "Odyssey" and "Cookie."

You can almost pick out the strippers from the police chief without knowing anything more about them. Among the men, the divide is even starker between different sides of the law. The nicknames of those still on the right side of the law likely came straight from Mom and Dad, or at least a little sis: "Sonny," "Hop," "Chip," "Cully," "Skip," "Bud," "Shorty" "Buzz," "Rusty," "Judge," "Clay," "Red," "Lucky," "Gip" and "Kit." "Moose" was as bad as it got.

Would "Scooter" have been so very commutable if he had labored in the White House under some of these nicknames of local suspects and criminals? Consider "Chemical," "G-Man," "Pumpkin," "Blip," "C-Flack," "Ace," "The Boss," "Dickey Bills," "Duck," "Bone," "Meatball," "Pooh-B," "Bad Lieutenant," "Animal," "Kaos," "Porgy" or even "Skeeter." That might have put "Scooter" behind bars for at least a few days.

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