Saturday, 25 July 2009


From the Guardian, news that John Ryan, Captain Pugwash creator and animator dies at 88, along with a fuller obituary. To those of a certain age, Ryan's creation was one of the classic British animated cartoons, one that cemented The Trumpet Hornpipe into popular consciousness as the Captain Pugwash theme, but he had a broad repertoire including other children's animations, Mary, Mungo and Midge (unusual then for its urban setting) and The Adventures of Sir Prancelot, and a cartoon for the Catholic Herald featuring the scheming but inept Cardinal Grotti. There's an extensive appreciation and bibliography at Steve Holland's Bear Alley.

A persistent accretion to the Pugwash story is the urban myth that the character names were double entendres and that "pugwash" is some archaic sexual slang: see Pugwash double meanings at This is all thoroughly debunked, but nevertheless Pugwash is a highly distinctive name with an interesting back-story.

Etymologically it's nothing to do with pugs 1 or washing: it's only pronounced pʌgwɒʃ (pug-wash) in the UK. The origin is ultimately Pugwash - pronounced pəgwɔʃ ("puhg-wawsh") or pəgwɑʃ ("puhg-waash") - the Nova Scotia port village, which got its name by characteristic Anglicisation of the Mi'kmaq word "Pagweak" (= "shallow water or shoal" - see Place names of Atlantic Canada, William Baillie Hamilton). Despite an attempt in the 1820s to change this "uncouth name" to Waterford, it stuck, and later gave its name to the Pugwash Conferences on nuclear disarmament (Pugwash was the home town of Cyrus Eaton, the Canadian financier who sponsored the first meeting).

A number of online accounts say Ryan got the name from seeing a newspaper article about the Pugwash Conferences, but I haven't been able to find a primary source for this. Nevertheless, a number of other writers appear to have been taken by the folksy nautical flavour of the village name, and the trail definitely starts in the New World. There's a Mrs Pugwash in The clockmaker, or, The sayings and doings of Samuel Slick of Slickville, Thomas Chandler Haliburto, 1840, which makes many references to Nova Scotia. There's an Isaac Pugwash, a shopkeeper who finds his soul in peril in The Chronicles of Clovernook, Douglas William Jerrold, 1846: although Jerrold wasn't Canadian, he was a newspaper editor, and he may well have seen Pugwash in the shipping news, where it regularly featured as a destination. In "The Confessions of Aristides Jinx", by Frederick Ward Saunders (Ballou's Monthly Magazine, v. 21-22 - 1865) the village of Pugwash is taken as the epitome of the uncosmopolitan. Now, however, the connotations are different: "Pugwash" is like the William Tell overture and the Lone Ranger: in the UK, only a true intellectual could see the word and not think of the pirate cartoon!

1. Whatever "pug" may be taken to mean: the OED has: "The husks separated in the cleaning of any kind of small seed"; "The refuse from the cider press"; "A term of endearment for a person (or, occasionally, an animal); also applied to a plaything, as a doll or pet. Obs."; "A courtesan, mistress, harlot, prostitute. Obs."; "Apparently: a ship's boy. Obs."; "A bargeman"; "Formerly, in the vocabulary of servants: an upper servant in a large establishment."; "Eng. regional. Any of various animals, as a hare, a squirrel, a ferret, a young salmon ... Now rare."; "A sheep in its second year. Obs."; "A name for a fox. Obs."; "A monkey, an ape. Also applied (like ‘monkey’) to a child. Obs."; "As a proper or generic name for an ape. Obs."; "A small demon or imp; a sprite; a puck. Obs."; "More fully pug hood. Apparently: a ladies' hood, or hood with short cape attached, fashionable around the middle of the 18th cent. Now hist."; "More fully pug dog. A breed of small dog."; "Any of numerous small geometrid moths of the genus Eupithecia and related genera"; "Brit. regional. Applied to any person or thing that is squat or stumpy. rare."; "Chiefly U.S. regional. A knot or bun of hair"; "More fully pug-engine. A small locomotive used chiefly for shunting; a contractor's engine"; "The footprint of an animal. Also more fully pug-mark."; "Clay or loam that has been pulverized, thoroughly mixed, and kneaded into a soft, plastic condition without air pockets for brick-making, pottery, etc"; "a pugilist".

- Ray

1 comment:

  1. I am sorry to say, I had never heard of Pugwash until this very minute. I shall study your links carefully.

    But as soon as you said 'Nova Scotia', I wondered if I might find any Fudges in Pugwash. Sure enough, there is Mrs. A. Fudge showing off her petunias on the Pugwash greenhouse web site.