Monday, July 21, 2014

Nimrod, You Nitwit!

I was working a crossword puzzle (what else is new?) the other day, and saw the clue “stupid person.”  The solution was six letters, and I already had the first two as NI. Confidently, I filled in NITWIT.  Wrong. It turns out the answer being sought was NIMROD.

This definition of Nimrod is new to me.  As you will undoubtedly recall from your assiduous study of The Bible, Nimrod appears in the Book of Genesis as the son of Cush and grandson of Noah.  He is described as a “mighty hunter,” and the idiom “eager Nimrod” is sometimes used to mean an “especially avid aspirant”—something like the early bird who catches the worm.  Nimrod, incidentally, is sometimes credited with (or blamed for, depending on your viewpoint) building the Tower of Babel.

According to the Online Etymological Dictionary nimrod, for unknown reasons, came to mean a “geek or klutz” in teenage slang sometime in the 1980s.  Other authorities put its use as a “stupid or dimwitted person” even earlier, as far back as the 1930s.

One possible source of this meaning is Looney Tunes movie cartoons, in which Bugs Bunny sometimes refers to his nerdy adversary Elmer Fudd, who is often seen in hunter’s garb carrying a shotgun, as a “nimrod.”  Fudd’s stupidity, which always allows the “wabbity wascal” to get the better of him, may account for nimrod’s usage to mean a dimwitted person. Nimrod is also sometimes used to refer to an inexperienced and clumsy hunter.

The term for “inexperienced and clumsy” versifier is The Bard of Buffalo Bayou, who eagerly presents his wares hereinbelow.

            A dimwitted nimrod quite eager
            To play ball as a star major-leaguer
                        Couldn’t pitch, run, or hit,
                        Or catch a fly in his mitt,
            So he found that his chances were meager.

            He decided instead to try tennis,
            His backhand, he felt, was a menace,
                        But his use of the racquet
                        Kept him out of a bracket,
            And he shipped out to find work in Venice.

            He signed on as a new gondolier,
            But this job lasted less than year,
                        For he needed a trio
                        To sing “O Sole Mio,”
            Since it turned out he had a tin ear.
            Poor Nimrod was left with no hope,
            He had reached the end of his rope,
                        Since he can’t be a star,
                        He now props up a bar,
            Where he finds it’s no problem to tope. 

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