Dr. Gerald Cohen, professor of foreign languages at Missouri S&T, will give a talk on Friday, April 20, on the 18th century poem “Namby Pamby” as part of the annual Poet Speak evening. Poetry readings by local poets will also be featured.
Cohen will read Henry Carey’s poem “Namby Pamby” and comment on it. The Poet Speak evening begins at 7 p.m. Friday, April 20, 2012, in Parish Hall of Christ Episcopal Church, 1000 N. Main St., adjacent to campus. The event is free and open to the public.
Cohen’s field is etymology, or the study of word origins (for example, the origin of The Big Apple as a nickname for New York City). He says that the childish word “namby pamby” arose from some hard feelings when poet Ambrose Philips wrote childish poetry dedicated to a few infants.
What was so bad about that? Plenty, says Cohen. Philips’ fellow poets — big names like Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift — recognized immediately that Philips had written his poems to ingratiate himself with the wealthy fathers of the infants in hopes of getting a job with them, Cohen says. And these big-shot poets could hardly keep their breakfast down when they read Philips’ jingling poetry, he adds.
“Philips had essentially sold out,” Cohen says. “One might even say he had prostituted himself, and the reaction of his fellow poets was most uncharitable, to put it mildly.”
A minor poet of that time, Henry Carey, sat down in an evident burst of inspiration and penned the mocking poem “Namby Pamby” — a childish play on the name “Ambrose,” much like “Georgie Porgie” — and the other poets gleefully joined in the mockery, Cohen says
By the time the dust settled a new word had entered the English language: “namby pamby.”