Jonathan Papelbon’s New Nickname Is BumbleBee

How the Finnish language inspired the Sox pitcher’s new nickname.

The Red Sox won a nifty game 04/05/06 against Texas by a score of 2-1. Highlights of the game include Trot Nixon hitting his first home run of the season, Josh Beckett getting his first win of the season, and Jonathan Papelbon getting his first major league save. All good stuff.

But the real purpose of this piece is to try to get some other Sox bloggers (namely Chad Finn’s Touching All The Bases, Cursed To First, and Singapore Sox Fan) to pick up on my family’s new nickname for Jonathan Papelbon, which is BumbleBee.

“Why ‘BumbleBee’?” I hear you asking. It’s simple, really. The “B” is for “Boston.” Plus he has a “stinging” fastball that really “buzzes” by the hitters. And if you put a black and yellow sweater on him, he’d look a lot like a BumbleBee.

OK, now for the real story. My wife is Finnish, and in the Finnish language, voiced consonants are not as prominent as they are in English. So when Finns pronounce words with “G”, “B”, or “D” in them (voiced consonants), they generally replace them (consciously or not) with “K”, “P”, or “T” (unvoiced consonants). Most forms of Finnish nouns (e.g. nominative case) use unvoiced constants with certain families of nouns reverting to voiced consonants in other forms of the noun (e.g. genitive case). If you study Finnish as a foreign language (as I have), then you’ll learn all about the “KPT” changes in certain nouns.

So the word “Papelbon” is problematic because it contains both a voiced consonant (“B”) and its equivalent unvoiced consonant (“P”), a combination that never (I’m pretty sure) occurs in the Finnish language. So a Finn might pronounce “Papelbon” as either “Papelpon” or “Babelbon,” neither of which rolls off the tongue.

But “BumbleBee” rolls of the tongue nicely. So that’s what we call him. Jonathan “BumbleBee” Papelbon. Maybe he and Beckett can be the “killer Bs.” You heard it here first.

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