I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power and impotence of names. About how much we invest in the practice of giving names—to our children, to the places where we live, to the places where other people live. You’ve heard, perhaps, about the controversial proposal to hebraize East Jerusalem neighborhood names. I’m here to tell you that the real argument is not to be found in this story and the storm in its wake.
We need to start much further upstream and concern ourselves with fundamental stories about “us” and “them,” for instance, with the figure of a certain rainbow-colored elephant named, in most cases, Elmer —who is a symbol of accepting difference, and the possibility of identifying with, indeed even becoming (for a day) the other. Well, he’s Elmer in English, the language in which the author David McKee first composed him, and allowing for a slight vowel change, he’s the same in various other languages. He’s Elmar in German, for instance. In Hebrew, however, he is “Bentzi,” short for “Ben Zion,” or son of Zion, and in a quite literal way, the most Zionist name one could possibly give or be given. Not only was the rainbow colored elephant’s name hebraized, it was changed to make him a Hebrew figure, i.e.an exclusively Hebrew, exclusively Israeli, figure. To be “Bentzi,” doesn’t only mean not to be Elmer. It also means to be the kind of being that can only be “in the land of Zion.”
It is noteworthy, indeed, worrisome, disappointing, imprudent and counterproductive that powerful voices within Israeli political culture, including Israel’s Parliament, want to change the narrative. These voices want to undercut Arab claims on East Jerusalem (mind you, not Palestinian, as they deny that there is such a thing as Palestinian). Repugnant as this is, I think the change from Elmer to Bentzi is even more significant.
Why? It seems to . . .
Read more: What’s in a Name? Or, the Political Significance of Elmer
This is the first post by Michael Corey of a two-part series on the use of the phrase “skin in the game.” -Jeff
‘Skin in the game’ is a widely used and imperfect aphorism of uncertain origins. The political meanings of the phrase have been used by all sides in political debates, and each side seeks to appropriate its meaning to connect with people on an informal level. The political application is relatively new compared to its application in business, finance, betting and war. ‘Skin in the game’ has become part of the rhetoric in debates on taxes, deficits and entitlements, and its use is likely to increase as the debates heat up.
‘Game’ is a metaphor for actions of all types, and ‘skin’ is a metaphor for being committed to something through emotional, financial, or bodily commitment. Skin is also a synecdoche representing the whole being. Taken together the phrase implies taking risk and being invested in achieving an outcome. The late columnist William Safire sought the origin of the phrase and didn’t resolve the issue, but he did dispel one widely held explanation. It was not the billionaire investor Warren Buffett who coined the phrase. Buffett likes executives in companies in which he invests to also have their funds, or their skin, invested in the firm. Safire learned from a money and investment specialist that the expression is much used to “convey financial risk in any kind of venture, but you could stretch it to mean some kind of emotional investment. Can you have skin in the game of your marriage? Well, you ought to.”
Ever since humans first walked the earth, our skins have been in the game as hunters, gatherers and cultivators. Over time, animal skins were used for trade and as currencies. For instance, buckskins were monetized, giving us our current buck and the use of the word skin as slang for money. The aphorism has been widely used in informal everyday language and increasingly has become popular in political speech. Safire observed in his New York Times column that ‘skin in the game’ . . .
Read more: Skin in the Game