A euphemism for puking (itself a euphemism for vomiting...). I've never understood this one. The best guess I can come up with is the onomatopoeic theory: when you're really heaving something out, it could sound like, "raaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalph."

Go figure.

In Judy Blume's coming-of-age book "Forever", Ralph is what Katharine's boyfriend calls his penis.

The fevered young couple are in bed making out, and the dude actually introduces his penis, saying "I'd like you to meet Ralph". The virginal Katharine studies the situation a minute, and then narrates the line that will forever live in infamy... "Ralph was small and soft in my hand." Later, she describes Ralph pushing against her. It all seems a little bit schizophrenic and kinky, less like a first encounter and more like a ménage à trois.

Guys who name their penises... what can I say? Imagine introducing your breasts to someone: "How are you, Dick? I'm Tiffany! Meet Bobbie, here on the right, and over here in the left cup, Bunny!

And if you're going to name your dick, then "Ralph", which is slang for vomiting, seems an unwise choice.

The Brief, Short History of Webster and Ralph

She was one of the most beautiful and dangerous women in 1913 New York City. Webster had been warned about her, but that didn't put him off the case. Instead, it drew him deeper into the mystery. Dames were always Webster's weakness, and he freely admitted such to the bartender while sipping whiskey alone at the bar. Yet, in the end, Webster always proved himself to be stronger than any spell they wove over him.

"My husband disappeared four months ago.
No one had heard from him since.
He left behind his bird and it talks incessantly."

"A parrot?"

"No. A raven."

Webster had certainly never met a talking raven, and according to his scholarly studies, no such thing really existed. The case aroused his deepest curiosities, and he was ready to charge forward with all his resources.

"I must meet this raven."

She led Webster to her home via taxi. Her home across town was a well appointed manor, letting Webster know that she either came from money or had married into it. This made her husband's disappearance more interesting. He would not have run out on such a plush lifestyle. The man had either met with an accident or foul play.

The bird in question was perched on a wooden stand inside a large metal cage in the middle of the sitting room. Webster examined it and found it to indeed be a raven. After all, his knowledge of avians was unsurpassed by any of the era. The bird said nothing. It just stared at Webster with menacing dark eyes, and in his mind Webster could hear its anguished screams of "free me... free Ralph."

"Your raven wants to go free."

"No. He cannot."

Webster said no more and asked to examine the house. He found little of interest and bade the lady permission to depart. He found himself at the library brushing up on his study of witchcraft and the black arts. Having learned that the woman's missing husband's name was Ralph, the bird's telepathic speech indicated to him that either the bird knew where to find Ralph or that he was himself Ralph. Webster needed more information before demanding possession of the bird.

Able to consume huge amounts of information in short periods of time, Webster reached his conclusions within twenty minutes after digesting a hundred volumes of text on witchcraft, spells and the nature of birds. There was no known history of telepathic birds, so Webster's logical mind decided that Ralph was indeed the raven. His study of magic spells convinced him such a thing was far more possible than a bird communicating telepathically.

Webster returned to the mansion and demanded possession of the bird "for further study." His client's reluctance convinced him something was wrong with the scenario. She said the bird belonged to her husband and hinted that she did not like the bird very much. Why then would she be so insistent on it not leaving her home?

Webster took the raven back to his office and called in many necromancers and spellcasters. None of their spells produced any change in the bird and eventually, after many years, the bird died. To this day, in Webster's mind, he hears the telepathic message the raven spoke to him for years before his death.

"Free me... free Ralph."

"Is your name Ralph?"


The case was never solved. It has haunted Webster to this day. The raven was stuffed and mounted by Webster's friend Omar the Taxidermist and remains on his mantle. He still stares at it for hours, having gone mad with frustration over the mystery he never solved.

Source: Secret parchment diaries of Omar the Taxidermist
and "Dames My Father Has Known" by Webster's illegitimate son Chino Merriam.

Further information and reading on the subject is available at Webster and the case of the Zookeeper which alludes to this case. Will anyone ever know the true story? Webster isn't talking and we have only the legends to go by. The truth may never be known.

I have become Ralph, the destroyer of cities

Ralph - or, if we're to spell the name correctly according to the original Rampage game, Ralph! - is the gigantic anthropomorphic, bipedal wolf of the Rampage arcade game and its follow-ups.

The other two monsters of the game are easier to explain: Lizzie is a clone of Godzilla and George is a clone of King Kong. However, most gigantic monster movies have not had a giant wolf! It can be just speculated that the folks at Bally Midway needed to make the game playable by three players, and got the character quickly after another great source of horror stories - the werewolf side.

(newspaper headlines in the game)

Ralph, according to the background story, was a hot dog stand owner. (Picture of his human form can be seen in the Rampage arcade game.) One day, he was hungry enough to eat the food from his own shop - at times, there is no bounds to human desperation - and was then transformed into a gigantic anthropomorphic wolf.

I love him.

I apologise for having a fixation on tails (oo, look, cute bushy tails!!!), but one notable thing is that in original Rampage artwork, Ralph doesn't have a tail. This may be logical, because there's no explanation on whether or not werewolves have tails, either - and most werewolves in artwork don't have tails. Nevertheless, I was very happy to see new artwork in Rampage Puzzle Attack, where Ralph, now more menacing than ever, did have a cute wolf-tail to balance the horror of the appearance.

As many people probably know, I roleplay an anthro-wolf online, too. In FurryMUCK, there's a Rampage coin-op in one place where the people who play the game become giant animals themselves. It was one of my dreams come true: I could actually become Ralph, one of the coolest arcade game characters ever. "Goodness gracious, great balls of fire!" (or something like that, I have not played the game for a while.)

A story from E2, long long time ago. I had been playing Rampage a lot, and found Ralph definition from Webster. It was a delight.

"Look", I told my sister. "Ralph is a name given to a raven."
"Think of the wolf from Rampage... ravens... wolves... see?"

In the nature, I've been told, the ravens and wolves do have an understanding and sense of cooperation (and same goes for hawks, quoth czeano). So maybe the name of raven is also a good name to a wolf.

(And this note was well before this became the C!-dump-target-du-jour. This is why I C!'d it. I urge you not to node your motives or this will be one hell of a long node.)

Believe it or not, Ralph has a factual story.

Part One: Ralph as a name for people

Occasionally, "Ralph" has been used as a family name, but much more frequently, it is a masculine given name with Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, and Old Norse roots. It is actually a shortened form of a name previously rendered in longer forms, including Radulf, Rathulfr, and Rædwulf. These names combine two words: "ræd" is an older form of rede, meaning "counsel," and "wulf" is an older form of wolf.

Many name meaning books agree that Ralph means "counsel-wolf," although few give any detailed etymology for it. Other names with related word roots include Randolph, which means "shield-wolf," and Wolfram, which means "wolf-raven."

The pronunciation of the name Ralph has undergone an interesting transformation in the last few decades or so. Almost everyone currently pronounces it in a manner similar to the word "alpha." However, prior to the early twentieth century, it was more frequently pronounced in a manner similar to the word "safe." This earlier pronunciation probably derived from the earlier forms of the name, especially Rædwulf. When the name was shortened, the earlier vowel sound was retained, and the letter L became silent.

Since then, this older pronunciation has gradually faded. Today only a few families in the upper classes of British society still use it.

One well known figure to retain the traditional pronunciation into the twentieth century was the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. At this writing, probably the most famous inheritor of this tradition is the actor Ralph Fiennes, and there are millions of young people around the world who might never have heard it said in the old way at all, if it were not for his popularity.

Part Two: Ralph as a name in Webster 1913

In what has become a source of great amusement to some people, of annoyance to others, and of perplexity to almost everyone, Webster 1913's entry for Ralph says it is "a name sometimes given to the raven." Only this, and nothing more.

Some find this definition so cryptic, they have advanced a claim that the entry is entirely fabricated. However, my research disproves this claim.

The earliest reference I was able to find was in a poem first published at the end of the eighteenth century, in 1797 to be precise. The poem was titled "Prison Amusements" and was written by James Montgomery while he was being held prisoner in York Castle for writing some politically incorrect opinions. This political background gave the poem unusual fame when it was published soon after his release, and it has also been read by many visitors to the castle since then. The following excerpt is interesting for our purposes here:

And yet the fellow ne'er is safe
From the tremendous beak of Ralph;
A raven grim, in black and blue,
As' arch a knave as e'er you knew;
Who hops about with broken pinions,
And thinks these walls his own dominions!

In the latter half of the nineteenth century there was a popular book called A Familiar History of Birds: Their Nature, Habits, and Instincts, written by Edward Stanley, Lord Bishop of Norwich. I have been able to find references to editions published as early as 1840, and references to later editions published in 1848, 1865, 1880, 1883, and 1892. So, this book seems to have remained fairly well known and influential for at least half a century. One of its anecdotes included the following passage:

Coming into the inn yard my chaise ran over and bruised the leg of a favorite Newfoundland dog, and while we were examining the injury, Ralph, the raven, looked on also. That night the dog was tied up under the manger with my horse and the raven not only visited him, but brought him bones and attended him with particular marks of kindness. (emphasis added)

The story I have quoted above seems to have made its way into other influential publications as well. The next reference I was able to find was from a book first published in 1853, although the citation I saw was from an edition printed in 1892. The book was Anecdotes of the Habits and Instincts of Birds, Reptiles, and Fishes, written by someone known to history as Mrs. R. Lee. Here is her version of the story:

The Saturday Magazine gives a still stronger proof of attachment in a raven, which attended a dog with the utmost kindness, whose leg had been injured by the wheel of a chaise passing over it. "The dog was tied up under a manger, where Ralph, the raven, visited him, and brought him bones. The ostler said the bird had been brought up with a dog, and great affection subsisted between them; that the dog's leg had been broken, and during his confinement, Ralph waited on him, carried his food, and scarcely left him alone. He one night nearly pecked a hole through the stable door, which was shut, that he might rejoin his invalid friend; and this attachment made him fond of all dogs." (emphasis added)

I found another clear reference to the story appearing, in a similar form, in a primary school reader first published in 1856. Readers of this type were used in the schooling of young children throughout the nineteenth century.

From these references we can see that the usage of Ralph as a name for the raven was widely known back in 1913, so this is probably why the editors of Webster 1913 did not feel any need to explicate their definition.

The rhyme scheme in James Montgomery's poem makes it clear that the poet had in mind the old pronunciation for the name Ralph, which is sometimes written as "rafe" to make the intended sound obvious. This similarity of vowel sounds, along with its apt rhyme with "safe," may be the main reason for any connection having arisen between this name and the raven.

Part Three: References

I have given the references their own section, in case skeptical readers wish to see the source materials for themselves.

  1. Stanley, Edward, Lord Bishop of Norwich. A Familiar History of Birds: their Nature, Habits, and Instincts. Some edition published 1840. Fourth edition published 1848. later editions 1865, 1880, 1883, 1892.

    Describes "Ralph, the raven" feeding an injured dog.

    quoted in:

  2. Lee, Mrs. R. Anecdotes of the Habits and Instincts of Birds, Reptiles, and Fishes. Published 1853. Describes very similar details of "Ralph, the raven" feeding an injured dog.

    quoted in:

  3. A reader for primary school children, published 1856, also repeats the story of "Ralph, the raven" feeding an injured dog.

    quoted in:

  4. Montgomery, James. "Prison Amusements." Published 1797.

    reproduced in full at:

Ralph (?), n.

A name sometimes given to the raven.


© Webster 1913.

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