Tony “Two-Toes”: the pragmatics of nicknames in films

Quarterly Review of Film and Video (2022)
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Films frequently employ nicknames not only for villains but also for non-criminal characters. In this paper, I present a classification of nicknames used in films, along with various examples, mostly from crime-related films. I argue that the use of nicknames in films is important not for the sake of reference, but for the sake of an additional narrative told by the nickname as a shorthand description of a character's background (cf. Tony “Two-Toes”, “Dirty” Harry, “Doc” Erwin or “Hatchet” Harry Lonsdale). The first role of nicknames is their use as a case of Russell's definite descriptions, which require context to be meaningful, in this case, the film story itself. Such descriptions do not need their object to necessarily exist, but they are still meaningful. This role will be tied to the pragmatic context employed. The second role of film nicknames is to concisely present the audience with a background story, by enriching the identity of a character with additional background information, without unnecessary storytelling. Such a device is connected to the philosophical theory of narrativism, providing an additional layer of the character’s identity.

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Kristina Šekrst
University of Zagreb


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