I had a semantic argument with a drunk in a New Orleans bar last week. “Do you know what I mean when I say the ‘white elephant in the room’?” he asked.
Sort of, I said. I know what you mean by “elephant in the room” and “white elephant”, but not necessarily the “white elephant in the room”. Is that a glaringly obvious topic of conversation that no one mentions that also happens to be an expensive and obsolete trinket?
He turns to the barmaid, exasperated. “Do you know what this guy is?” he asks. “He’s a goddamned limey.”
To me, jeeringly: “You don’t mind me calling you a limey, do you?”
It made me reflect. Is limey supposed to be derogatory? As nicknames go, a reference to a centuries-old naval policy of prescribing fruit to ward off vitamin deficiency isn’t gravely insulting.