"Go Ralph Club!"

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Below I've reprinted a prominent intellectual's Facebook post. The recent upsurge of interest in 1980s-era American slang gives it some relevance to LLOG, but mostly I just admired the sentiment. Since it was not a public post, I asked permission to quote it, and the author responded:

Go ahead. It was briefly a tough decision – I sat there cynically thinking "but I have a reputation". Then I thought, you know what, that's the problem. We don't let people be human, so they lie and cheat and pretend they're angels instead. So yes, go ahead. 

But in the end I decided to leave out the signature and the link, because in fact this note could be signed by a large fraction of the world's population, or at least the part of it that I've known over the course of my life:

Dear Brett,

Of all of the defenses, your "I never did stupid and dangerous things while drunk, never passed out, never blacked out, and 'ralphed' only from spicy food" is the dumbest thing you could have come up with.

Look, *I've* been an obnoxious drunk, lots, in addition to being a pretty high-achieving young jerk like yourself. "How could I have been a heavy-drinking asshole? Look at this string of accomplishments!" is a preposterous argument. In fact, I think I drank too much and did stupid things when I was younger *precisely* because of the pressure I put myself under to be perfect the rest of the time. I bet you did too.

Brett, you lied and lied, and you didn't have to. Why on earth didn't you try this? "Sure, I fucked up lots of times, and there may even be times I don't remember. If I did something like that at 17 that I don't remember, I'm truly sorry. I've dedicated the rest of my life to making the world a better place, and I come here as a judge, not as a clueless 17-year-old. I hope I am considered on my legal work and my character as a mature man."

See, that was easy. You jerk. Next time don't do your homework at the last minute, and give it to a friend to read before you turn it in.

From one Ralph Club officer to another (Go Ralph Club!)


I should obviously add that the same commentary doesn't apply to the sexual assault charges, which are not part of the background of most adolescent males. But the post's point is that the doctrine of Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus connects the discussion of the "Beach Week Ralph Club" to the discussion of more serious things.


  1. Philip Taylor said,

    October 4, 2018 @ 6:59 am

    Strange. Somehow I subconsciously knew, even before reading any part of it, that this post was going to be in some way about Brett Kavanaugh, but the title, Go Ralph Club led me to think that his name was actually Ralph rather then Brett (OK, I don't follow American politics, so I was aware of his existence only because of recent mentions of him on BBC radio). It was only on reading the article in full that I began to appreciate that, in this context at least, "ralph" was probably a verb, with a possible/probably meaning of "to vomit". Odd that such an apparently innocuous title could lead someone (myself) to "know" what the topic of the post was to be.

  2. GeorgeW said,

    October 4, 2018 @ 7:29 am

    In my day, 20 years or so before Kavanaugh's, it was known as "calling Ralph." I assume it was named for the sound that may accompany vomiting from over indulgence in alcohol. I don't recall the term ever being applied to being sick from other causes, like illness or 'spicy food."

    And yeah, I "called Ralph" on occasion.

  3. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 4, 2018 @ 7:41 am

    In a perhaps fruitless attempt to promote a language-related rather than other-things-related comment thread, let me note the interesting coincidence that 1965 (the year Judge Kavanaugh and myself were both born) was the last year per the SSA baby names database that "Ralph" was a more common name for newborn boys in the U.S. than "Brett," with 1966 being the year the trendlines finally crossed and Brett first pulled ahead. Peak Brett was the '70's through early '90's and it has experienced a quite sharp dropoff in the new millennium and may now be "catching up" in the other direction with the longer-term secular decline of Ralph.

    2017 was the first year Ralph was absent from the top 1000. It was the 31st-most-popular boys' name in 1893, when it was given to my newborn paternal grandfather, remained in the top 50 until 1947, and in the top 100 until 1963. The youngest currently-sitting federal judge (shout-out to the Federal Judicial Center for having a searchable-by-first-name database of all federal judges since 1789!) named Ralph appears to be the Hon. Ralph R. Erickson of the Eighth Circuit, born 1959.

  4. Theophylact said,

    October 4, 2018 @ 7:48 am

    Barry Humphries's "Bazza McKenzie" uses the expression "cry Ruth", among many other synonymous phrases as "make love to the lav", "technicolour yawn" and "shouting down the big white telephone".

  5. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 4, 2018 @ 7:50 am

    To GeorgeW's point, my best recollection is that most if not all slang terms for vomiting, including but not limited to the verb "to ralph," just meant vomiting period, and were not per se limited in their semantic scope to alcohol-related vomiting. As a matter of pragmatics rather than semantics, alcohol-related vomiting may have been by far the most salient and frequently-discussed in a college-type environment. And I guess "ralph" and similar terms had a certain cutesy/jocular vibe that made them especially suitable when telling tales about overindulgence, such that if by contrast one were describing how so-and-so's entirely-sober roommate had had to be walked over to the campus infirmary after experiencing a range of flu-type symptoms including vomiting, one might have instead defaulted to the less-cutesy "puked."

  6. Philip Taylor said,

    October 4, 2018 @ 8:26 am

    JWB ("In a perhaps fruitless attempt to promote a language-related rather than other-things-related comment thread …"). I am sympathetic to your intentions, but it is surely a fact that all readers of LL have interests beyond language, and often a topic that starts as a purely linguistic discussion evolves into something far more general. In the present case, I would respectfully submit that Mark's initial post was far less about language qua language than it was about more general matters, and thus continuing the "general" aspects of the post is not (IMHO) inappropriate.

  7. bks said,

    October 4, 2018 @ 9:10 am

    Lying is part of language?

  8. BillR said,

    October 4, 2018 @ 9:29 am

    “Lying is part of language?”


    “Your lyin’ Eyes…” notwithstanding.

  9. Ursa Major said,

    October 4, 2018 @ 9:36 am

    I do have related linguistic questions: Is being drunk the concept for which English has the most number of synonymous terms? Why is this and not, say, having sex? Is this the same in other languages? What rules govern the creation of a new term?

    There may even be times from my student days that I don't remember but I know we used to make a game out of coming up with new words for being trolleyed.

  10. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 4, 2018 @ 9:48 am

    @Philip Taylor: I certainly do not begrudge the right of myl to post less-language-focused material as and when he wants to, and commenters to comment accordingly. By trying to see if there might be an interesting language-related angle to talk about I was pursuing my own interests rather than suggesting that everyone else is obligated to do likewise.

  11. Len said,

    October 4, 2018 @ 9:56 am

    "Talking to Huey [or God] on the porcelain telephone" is another version I learned from an ex-squaddie.

  12. Rick Robinson said,

    October 4, 2018 @ 11:39 am

    From the 1970 era I remember hearing 'Ralphing' (but not 'calling Ralph'), along with expressions like 'buying /driving a Buick', but my favorite was 'driving the porcelain bus'.

    And agree with @J.W. Brewer that all of these terms were mainly associated with vomiting from drinking. People who threw up for other reasons would likely use more prosaic terms. And for that matter most teens probably wouldn't quasi-boast about throwing up because of a delicate stomach.

  13. Michèle Sharik said,

    October 4, 2018 @ 12:33 pm

    “Worshipping the porcelain god”

  14. TheLong1930s said,

    October 4, 2018 @ 3:50 pm

    I've always been fascinated by the ([South-Western?] British?) slang use of 'urging' for 'retching', as it always strikes me as odd that vomiting has so many synonyms and retching so few.

  15. Philip Taylor said,

    October 4, 2018 @ 4:14 pm

    TL1930s — Well, I am living in Cornwall now (about as south-west as you can get in Britain) and I haven't encountered "urging" yet, but I shall make a point of asking around …

  16. Theophylact said,

    October 4, 2018 @ 6:37 pm

    Ursa Major: The works of P. G. Wodehouse have an incredible number of words for being drunk. I can't currently lay my hands on it, but I have a Wodehouse glossary which has a complete cycle, as in "'stoned': see 'stonkered'", and then "'stonkered': see 'tiddly'", and so on.

  17. KevinM said,

    October 4, 2018 @ 9:08 pm

    Perhaps a better source – i.e., closer to the relevant language community at the relevant time – is The Official Preppy Handbook ("Look, Muffy, a book for us"), published in 1980. At p. 113 are "20 Verbal Expressions for Vomiting." Coming in at no. 14 (alphabetically), sure enough, is "Ralph."

  18. Joe Eaton said,

    October 4, 2018 @ 11:41 pm

    U. Utah Phillips, the late singer/songwriter/Wobbly agitator, used to talk about calling Ralph O’Rourke on the big porcelain telephone.

  19. TheLong1930s said,

    October 5, 2018 @ 12:44 am

    Philip Taylor – I grew up in Cornwall (although I've heard it from Devonians too). It's normally, I think, found with 'make' ("Twas some rank, made me urge'), rather than on its own.

  20. Sarah said,

    October 5, 2018 @ 2:28 am

    Ursa Major: I have another candidate for most synonyms – as children we once thought of all the synonyms we could for mad (bonkers, crazy, etc) and we came up with about 50 – to the absolute horror of a German girl who was staying with us and wondered what sort of a nation the British were!

  21. /df said,

    October 5, 2018 @ 9:58 am

    Billy Connolly's Glaswegian visiting Rome and having had a pint of "what the Pope drinks" (supposedly crème de menthe!) invoked not just Ralph but Hughie as well.

    @TheLong1930s, presumably SW English "urging"=retching is the same word with a dialectal metathesis, going back apparently to some onomatopoeic Germanic root.

  22. Ross Presser said,

    October 5, 2018 @ 10:17 am

    The phrase I remember being used most often was "worshiping the porcelain goddess". Why a goddess rather than a god, I have no idea.

    @/df and @TheLog1930s, could "urge"="retch" have anything to do with the rhyming "The urge to regurge(-itate)"?

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