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A sobriquet is a nickname or a fancy name, usually a familiar name given by others as 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, that is, of sufficient familiarity, is most easily noted in cases where the sobriquet becomes more familiar than the original name for which it was formed as an alternative. For example, Genghis Khan, who is rarely recognized now by his original name "Temüjin"; and the British Whig party, which acquired its sobriquet from the British Tory Party as an insult.

Two early variants of the term are found, sotbriquet and soubriquet; the latter form is still often used, though the correct modern French spelling is sobriquet. The first form suggests a derivation from sot, foolish, and briquet, a French adaptation of Ital. 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 due to popular etymology, and the real origin is to be sought in the form soubriquet.

Littré gives an early 14th 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 politics. Candidates and political figures are often branded with sobriquets, either contemporarily or historically. For example, American President Abraham Lincoln came to be known as Honest Abe. Sobriquets are not always used to highlight virtuous qualities, either. 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.

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.

See also

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