On Monday, December 29, 1997, I had an hour-long conversation with Wilmot Perkins on his radio show, ‘Perkins On Line,’ about Edward Seaga’s description of the People’s National Party as a ‘mongrel’ party. At the time, I was writing a column for the Jamaica Observer and excerpts of the transcript were published in the paper in three installments. The first was titled, ‘Playing fool to catch wise’. In the next few blog posts, I’ll be serialising an unedited transcript of the entertaining conversation.
P: Yes, ma’am, good afternoon to you.
C: A very good afternoon to you Mr. Perkins. I’m Carolyn Cooper . . .
P: Ooooh, Miss, Mrs . . . Mrs or Miss Cooper?
C: Miss Cooper
P: Miss Cooper. How are you?
C: Very well. All the best for the new year, Mr. Perkins.
P: Oh, thank you very much. And the same to you!
C: Thank you. No, well the reason I’m calling, you see, is because somebody just called me a little while a go to say that you were on the air telling people that mongrel does not mean dog. Is that right?
P. Does not mean dog.
C: I didn’t actually hear that, so I’m wondering if that’s what you actually said.
P: That a mong, mongrel does not necessarily mean dog.
C: Oh, you’re saying ‘necessarily’.
C: Oh you’re modifying it.
P. No, no, no, no! No, no, no, no!
C: So you concede that it does mean dog as well.
P. It, it, well, there are dogs; there are mongrel dogs and mongrel all sorts of other things.
C: Alright. Now, Mr. Perkins, I don’t know which dictionary you consulted for that definition but my trusty Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, listen to the definitions it gives for mongrel. The first definition, “a dog of no definable breed”
C: “resulting from various crossings.”
C: 1b, “applied to persons as a term of contempt.”
C: That’s the primary meaning. The secondary meaning 2, “an animal or plant resulting from the crossing of different breeds or kinds, restricted by some to the result of the crossing of varieties opposed to hybrid”; and 3, “a person not of pure race, chiefly disparaging.”
P: Uh huh
C: So when you say mongrel is not necessarily dog, Mr. Perkins,
C: You not being fair.
C: Because the primary meaning of mongrel is a “dog of no definable breed”.
P: But the primary meaning implies that there are other meanings.
C: Yes, Mr Perkins, I’m not saying there are not other meanings.
P: So therefore, if it has – hold on with me – if there are other meanings,
C: Uh huh
P: Right, and, and, and if there are other meanings of the word mongrel
P: Then why do you light up on what you are calling the primary meaning to say that that is the only meaning?
C: Because, Mr. Perkins, in the context of Mr. Seaga’s usage – let me tell you now, I didn’t hear him, you know; this is all hearsay. I didn’t hear what he said. I gather he said this is the PNP is a mongrel party, not the pure – well I don’t know if he said pure, it’s not the . . .
P: No, he said, he said that it was not the party of Norman Manley,
P: Nor of Michael Manley
P: It is now a mongrel party.
C: OK. Now in that context of usage,
C: I take your point that, perhaps, he did not mean mongrel as dog, although he . . .
P: No, hold on little bit. Hold on little bit. Ahm, you are a graduate of a university?
C: Yes man
P: And a teacher, and a teacher of English?
C: Yes, I teach literature, but you know literature,
P: You teach literature.
C: The raw material of literature is language.
P: Is language
C: So I teach language.
P: Language. Therefore I assume that you are not only familiar with the semantics of words but you are familiar with words used as metaphor.
C: Oh yes, Mr Perkins! If I were to say . . .
P: And if the word, if the word is used in relation to
C: Careful now Mr Perkins, careful what you say
P: Yes. Analyse with me. The word mongrel, the primary meaning you say
C: No, not I say
C: The Oxford
P: The Oxford Dictionary.
C: The primary meaning is a dog.
P: Is a dog
C: Dog. Of no definable breed
P: Of no definable breed. If the word is used . . .
P: He clearly is not talking then about a dog. He’s talking about a party.
C: He’s talking about the party, but he’s applying to the party
P: No! Hold on just a moment!
C: A word – mongrel – is functioning there as an adjective describing the party.
P: Miss Cooper
C: Yes sir.
P: If he’s . . . you say the primary meaning of mongrel
C: Uh huh
P: Is a kind of dog. Yes. Now, if he is using the word not in relation to dogs, to a dog, but to a party
C: He’s using it metaphorically.
P: Then he clearly is using the word metaphorically.
P: Now, so what we are dealing with here is a metaphor.
C: Mr. Perkins, a lot of your listeners don’t know what metaphor means.
C: Yes, well we’re dealing with a statement of fact, that he did say that the PNP is a mongrel party.
P: No, no! That is not the fact that I’m talking about.
C: What we have to establish now is what does that factual statement mean.
P: No, no! No, no! That’s not a factual statement. That’s not a factual, what I would call a factual statement. It is a metaphorical statement.
C: Alright, no, I’m operating at two levels; first, the first level is to say let us establish
P: Did he or did he not say it.
P: Yes, he did say something.
C: I didn’t hear it.
P: He did say it.
C: He did say it. So we’re moving on to the next level. What did he mean?
P: What kind of statement is it? Does he mean that the PNP is a dog? Or is he making a metaphorical statement, ahm, to mean that the PNP is a, is a dog of no definable character?
C: Yes, that is what he’s saying.
P: A dog, no, no! Does he mean that the PNP is a dog? Or does he mean that the PNP is a party? Because he didn’t say it was a mong mongrel. He said it was a mongrel party.
C: He’s using it . . .
P: Hold on little bit. No, no, no, no! The word mongrel in the context, I heard what he said; the word mongrel was not used as a noun.
C & P: It was used as an adjective.
P: Because it qualified party.
C: Ok. Yes
P: So Mr Mong Seaga was not talking about a dog. He was talking about a party.
C: That is like a dog
P: That shared
C: He was talking about a party
P: that shared in his view
P. Hold on little! No, no!
C: He was talking about a party that he was comparing to
P: No, no, no! He wasn’t comparing. This wasn’t a comparison
C: He was comparing the party to
P: No, this was not a comparison.
C: A kind of dog.
P: No ma’am. No, no, no, no! Come now. He was not talking about a dog.
C: Alright, Mr. Perkins
P: He didn’t use the word mongrel as a noun. He used it as an adjective.
C: And as an adjective
P: As an adjective he used it.
C: As an adjective, it contains the qualities of the noun.
P. Hold on just a moment. Hold on. He used the word mongrel as an adjective qualifying the word party.
C: Mr. Perkins, this might confuse you more. Let me
P: Hold on just a moment nuh! Hold on. Let me tell you what he said.
P: He used the word mongrel as an adjective qualifying the word party.
C: Ih hih.
P: So he isn’t talking about a dog. He’s talking about a party.
P: That shares some of the attributes, in his view, of a mongrel.
P: Good. So we are agreed on that.
P: What’s wrong with that?
This is how I answer that question in my column published in the Observer on January 17, 1998:
“Good question. You see what’s wrong with that. When I pin down Mr. Perkins – he is forced to concede that mongrel means dog and the PNP is being compared to a dog – he tries to wriggle away by pretending that we really agree”.
There’s a lot more wriggling in Part II.