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In Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlein, why is Dr Mahmoud nicknamed "Stinky?" There aren't any mentions in there of his shower habit or lack thereof that I found; plus he seems like a rather high class individual, not of the type who would be particularly smelly. They just kind of keep calling him "Stinky," and he never seems to mind. Anyone know why?

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    Great question. I've been trolling sites on the book and Heinlein for the last hour or so, and I haven't found anything. I can't even find Mahmoud's first name; if it were phonetically close to "Stinky," that would be a good explanation. It's possible that this is due to Mahmoud spending the most time with Mike on Mars, and therefore the least time bathing during the mission, but that's a stretch, given that the rest of the crew would have similar problems. It's possible Heinlein deleted a passage that would explain this. – James Sheridan Oct 25 '14 at 3:09
  • Pure speculation, but Dr. Mahmoud was educated in British school which are notorious for generating nicknames which stick with people (at least among their friends) after leaving school. Could just be a bit of color (or should that be colour?). – dmckee Oct 25 '14 at 4:50
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    Upon re-reading, it's actually Jubal that nicknames Mahmoud "Stinky." So there goes my only working theory. – James Sheridan Oct 25 '14 at 5:03
  • @James Sheridan Yeah, I too looked around for a while with no success. So far my hypothesis is same as yours - deleted passage. Although it's a pretty strange passage to delete, what with leaving all the times Mahmoud is called Stinky in the book. At least have him say "Whoa there, chief!" the first that happens, you know? – Misha R Oct 25 '14 at 5:47
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    @MishaRosnach: Especially since there's no explanation in the unabridged version Heinlein's wife published after his death. Which would imply that Heinlein deleted the passage explaining the nickname before sending the book to be edited. – James Sheridan Oct 25 '14 at 5:52
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I've looked through the uncut UK version published by Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. At appx. 220,000 words it's the most complete version I've seen. This is the first mention of the nickname "Stinky":

Part II His Preposterous Heritage, Ch.21:

“Or medicinal alcohol,” [ship’s surgeon Dr.] Nelson added. “Don’t let him pull your leg, Jubal. Stinky drinks anything—and always regrets it.”

I've searched through the whole book, and there's no mention of why or how he acquired that nickname - it's left as a noodle incident. There's also no mention of his first name; he's always referred to as "Mahmoud", "Dr. Mahmoud", or "Stinky".

  • Ah well. He certainly takes the nickname like a trooper. Must have really deserved it at some point. – Misha R Oct 26 '14 at 4:41
  • Maybe he smells of alcohol? – No'am Newman Oct 26 '14 at 16:05
  • Actually, I always assumed it was because of the food he ate, or he smelled like the food he ate. Possibly because I believed he was Indian (at the time I read the book, which was many many years ago). – davidbak Apr 3 '15 at 4:09

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