The campaign against metaphors should apply to all Invercargill civic institutions, the mayor included.
Figurative language got a kick in the teeth this week when Nobby Clark, the mayor of Invercargill, sought to introduce a ban on the use of “metaphorical names in Te Reo” for civic buildings. Should any Māori words be involved, he insisted, they must not “denote something that is not relevant to the building or service”.
Clark, a noted performance artist whose material includes a metaphorical torrent of profanity, has made headlines across the country since his election to the mayoral office last year. His thinking in the current matter may have something to do with Tim Shadbolt once calling him “Brutus” – a Latin metaphor – while his fixation on precision is reflected in his description of his own character. “I’m a Virgo,” he told the Otago Daily Times. “So I get everything done yesterday.”
The commitment to literalism shines fresh light on the mayor. For example, after being elected ahead of Shadbolt, he suggested that voters backed him as someone who could ”fire a few bullets”. Commencing the role, however, he was ”a wolf coming into the sheep pack”. He further told the Spinoff he had been “tarred” by association with Shadbolt. Is Clark in fact a taniwha? Hard to say, but do not be alarmed if you encounter a lupine, gun-toting mayor trotting down Dee Street with bits of bitumen stuck in his fur.
But never mind all that. If the Invercargill mayor’s edict is to apply across the board, it must include the most important civic institution of them all: Nobby Clark.
Nobby’s real name is William. William Clark. The practice of giving people with the surname Clark the nickname “Nobby” is thought to derive from the requirement that clerks in the City of London were required to wear top hats. The use of a form of hat to symbolically denote a profession is a synecdoche, a form of metaphor. (Others reckon it harks back to pen-gripping clarks getting calloused, or nobby knuckles, but that’s still a metaphor.)
In the interests of consistency, therefore, it is right and proper that Mayor Clark disavow the Nobby – ban its use, no less. He must banish forever this metaphor born of a distant lexicon that serves only to confuse ordinary hardworking Southlanders, and henceforth we should call him Bill.