Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bill Slayback: The last name you wish you had

Surnames are interesting things. In the Scandinavian tradition, the last name was formed by adding a suffix to the father's name. Thus, one of Anders' son would be named Andersen, one of Nils' sons Nilsen, and so forth1. In English traditions, surnames were frequently derived from occupations (Miller, Smith) or from common family characteristics (Armstrong, Goodchild).

If we assume the last name of 1970s Detroit Tigers' pitcher Bill Slayback to be of English descent, we are presented with a linguistic conundrum: Were Bill Slayback's ancestors occupied in slaying backs or in having their backs slain2?

Since Bill Slayback was a mighty athlete who possessed a powerful voice3, this author assumes that his ancestors were (to borrow a phrase from The Means of Columbus, OH) "record holders in the blood purges." Given this [assumed] knowledge, it's easy to envision long-haired Slaybacks hard at work "cleaning out" the royal courts through means consistent with Shakespearean intrigue.

In 2006, Bill Slayback released an album titled "Lady Dancing on Fire" in obvious tribute to his ancestral ability to create innovative ways of smiting4. The title track features a guest appearance by "family friend" Joan of Arc5. The album gained positive reviews from acclaimed music critic Jim Leyland. No, really.

1 Please note that Norwegian and Danish names end in -sen. Only dirty Swedish names end in -son or -sson. And nobody cares about Iceland.

2 This is an English phenomenon known in some circles the "Alaska Laser Wash Vagueity," in which it is unclear whether (A) one should take their car there to be cleaned with a laser or (B) one should take their laser there to be washed.

3 In case you are unable to follow the links, Slayback famously recorded and released "Move Over Babe (Here Comes Henry)" in the offseason after the 1973 season with the help of legendary Tigers' announcer Ernie Harwell. Hank Aaron was just one home run short of Babe Ruth's record at the time.

4 It's claimed that Slayback played and recorded all instruments on the album. That claim has yet to be verified, as Ol' Bill is apparently nowhere on the Internet. If you can find some clips from the album, please link them below.

5 Too soon?

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