Perhaps ignorantly, or more likely in a spirit of sarcastic
mockery, the Citizen mispronounces one of the English names he
reads from the pages of the Irish Independent: "Cockburn,
at the Moat house, Chepstow." People in England pronounce this
name "Coburn" (and sometimes spell it so), but the Citizen
clearly pronounces it as it is spelled in the newspaper,
because Joe Hynes jumps in with a remark about gonorrhea: "— I
know that fellow, says Joe, from bitter experience."
Senan Molony suggests in a personal communication that the
mispronuncation is a typical instance of the Citizen speaking
confidently about things he does not understand. It may be so:
his capacity for ignorant blather should never be
underestimated. But here he may be deploying the ridiculous
English name deliberately. Later in the chapter he puns on
another sexually transmitted disease when Bloom tries to point
out that the island next door has a highly achieved
civilization: "— Their syphilisation, you mean,
says the citizen. To hell with them! The curse of a
goodfornothing God light sideways on the bloody thicklugged sons
of whores' gets! No music and no art and no literature
worthy of the name. Any civilisation they have they stole from
us." He is still riding the same horse a little later when J.
J. O'Molloy refers to King Edward VII as "the peacemaker:"
"— Tell that to a fool, says the citizen. There's a
bloody sight more pox than pax about that boyo." This
comment sets his companions to joking about Albert Edward's
omnivorous sexual exploits.
Something about English names seems calculated to mock the prudish reserve with
which some English people regard their bodies. In Penelope
Molly thinks of "those awful names with bottom in them
Mrs Ramsbottom or some other kind of a bottom." A nice
young woman of my acquaintance has been saddled with the name
of Reamsbottom. There are also British people named
Shufflebottom, Longbottom, Bottomore, Bottomles, Bottoman, and
Bottomers. The English countryside is dotted with similarly
suggestive place names: Velvet Bottom, Scratchy Bottom, Slap
Bottom, Galloping Bottom, Flash Bottom, Burnt Bottom,
Broadbottom, Slackbottom, Hole Bottom, Happy Bottom, Paradise
Bottom, Whambottom Lane, and the like.
Cocks appear in many British family names like Handcock,
Glasscock, Cockshott, Wilcocks, Stonecock, and Bullcock, as
well as places like Cockermouth, Cockshot, Cockshoot Close,
Cockshot Wood, the Cockup Lake District, Cockplay, and
Cocking. Add in the many variations on Balls, Butts, Tit,
Titty, Piddle, Furry, Bush, Clit, Prick, Lick, Fanny, Dicks,
and Nut, and—even after allowing for the fact that many of
these words have acquired new meanings over the course of
centuries—the entire English countryside seems to be staging a
maniacal return of the repressed. Monty Python could not make
it up better.
But the notion of using "cock burn" to mock the hated English
would probably never occur to the Citizen if he did not live
in a city housing the largest red-light district north of
Morocco. Joe Hynes evidently spends some of his earnings in
the Monto, as did Joyce and many respectable middle-class men
of his day—enough of them to make STDs a feature of casual
conversation. This is perhaps not a form of Irish cultural
superiority to which the Citizen should be calling attention.