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A sobriquet (/ˈsbrɨk/ SOH-bri-kay) is a nickname, sometimes assumed, but often given by another. It is usually a familiar name, distinct from a pseudonym assumed as a disguise, but a nickname which is familiar enough such that it can be used in place of a real name without the need of explanation. This salient characteristic is of sufficient familiarity that the sobriquet can become more familiar than the original name. For example, Genghis Khan, who is rarely recognized now by his original name, Temüjin; or Mohandas Gandhi who is better known as Mahatma Gandhi. Well known places often have sobriquets, such as New York City, often referred to as the Big Apple. The term can therefore apply to the nickname for a specific person, group of people or even a place.


Two early variants of the term are found, sotbriquet and soubriquet; the latter form is still often used. The modern French spelling is sobriquet. The first form suggests derivation from sot, foolish, and the second form, briquet, is a French adaptation of Italian brichetto, diminutive of bricco, ass, knave, possibly connected with briccone, rogue, which is supposed to be a derivative of Ger. brechen, to break; but Skeat considers this spelling to be an example of false etymology. The real origin is to be sought in the form soubriquet.

Littré gives an early fourteenth century soubsbriquet as meaning a chuck under the chin, and this would be derived from soubs, mod. sous (Lat. sub), under, and briquet or bruchel, the brisket, or lower part of the throat.


Sobriquets are often found in music, sports and politics. Candidates and political figures are often branded with sobriquets, either while living or posthumously. For example, President of the United States Abraham Lincoln came to be known as Honest Abe. Sobriquets are not necessarily complimentary. A banking tycoon and politician from Knoxville, Tennessee named Jake Butcher was known as "Jake the Snake" after being indicted and subsequently convicted for bank fraud.[citation needed]

Fowler's Modern English Usage (1926) warned, "Now the sobriquet habit is not a thing to be acquired, but a thing to be avoided; & the selection that follows is compiled for the purpose not of assisting but of discouraging it." Fowler included the sobriquet among what he termed the "battered ornaments" of the language, but opinion on their use varies. Sobriquets remain a common feature of speech today.







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  2. ^ "Profile: 'World banker to the poor'". BBC NEWS. 2006-10-13. Retrieved 2006-10-16. 
  3. ^ Berkery, Patrick. "The Big Piece's big Game One: What does it mean?". Retrieved 18 November 2011. 
  4. ^ "4c. City of Brotherly Love — Philadelphia". Retrieved 18 November 2011. 
  5. ^ Schwartz, Larry. "Dr. J operated above the rest". ESPN SportsCentury. ESPN. Retrieved 18 November 2011. 
  6. ^ ""The Greatest" Is Gone". Time. 1978-02-27. p. 5.,9171,919377-5,00.html
  7. ^ "Moi: the ruthless 'professor of politics'". The Age. 16 October 2002. Retrieved 31 March 2013. 

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