THE name of a thing or person can sometimes become so familiar that it is adopted as a word. Perhaps the most obvious modern example has been the transformation of a company into a verb when searching online. To ‘Google’ something is now a handy verb as well as a seductively useful aspect of life.
Watching the news last night, it occurred to me that another name should become a verb. This is to ‘blatter’, named in honour of the disgraced Fifa chairman Sepp Blatter, who has been banned from football for eight years, along with his onetime heir-apparent, Michel Platini.
What concerns us here are not the political ins and outs of what money may or may not have been inappropriately paid. No, it is more the attitude of the accused person that is of interest.
Blatter is famously defiant, and yesterday he was at it again, insisting on his obvious innocence in the face of an uncaring world. Or an uncaring Fifa ethics committee. Blatter looked shaken and frail, with a plaster under his eye following a minor operation. He was also unshaven and seemed confused.
Yet he was still insisting on his innocence. “I am not ashamed,” he said. “I am sorry that I am a punching ball. I am sorry for football… I am suspended eight years. Suspended eight years for what?”
So to ‘blatter’ is to carry on as you always have done with sublime disregard for whatever the world thinks. It is to talk slightly incoherently while denying everything that has been said about you. And it is, or it was, to bounce back after every setback. Whether or not Blatter will rise again seems unlikely, but you wouldn’t put it past the Swiss national, even at the age of 79.
The use of the verb to ‘blatter’ also suggests something vaguely unsavoury and an ability to protest more loudly as the charges against you rise. And also perhaps to be finally tripped up by the sort of behaviour you have always used against other people.
By coincidence, the new verb is only different by one letter from the familiar noun ‘blather’, which means to “talk long-windedly without making very much sense” – almost the same thing, as it happens.
Blather, incidentally, comes from the Old Norse word blathra, meaning to ‘talk nonsense’.
The Americans have a wonderful variant on this word, with a ‘blatherskite’ being a person who talks at great length without making much sense. So in the new useage, we could perhaps also adopt ‘blatterskite’ in a similar vein.
Staying with the second letter of the alphabet, another good word is ‘blarney’. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable defines this as “flattering talk, often with wheedling or flowery turns of phrase”. It comes from the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle near Cork in Ireland. Tradition has it that one has to kiss this stone while lying on one’s back and leaning over a sheer drop, with “a pair of strong arms gripping one’s shins”.
Those who follow this bizarre instruction are said to be given the gift of cajolery. I don’t recall whose strong arms gripped my shins, but once long ago I did kiss that stone.
Towards the other end of the alphabet we find another Swiss man whose name has taken on a wider meaning. Cesar Ritz was the hotelier who lent his name to smart hotels round the world, and gave birth to the colloquial phrase ‘ritzy’, meaning fashionable and luxurious or ostentatiously smart.
What’s the betting that in his long career as Fifa president Sepp Blatter has stayed at one or other Ritz. And when thus ensconced he no doubt indulged in a spot of Ritzy blattering.