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‘Twas brillig on the slithy toves did smog at brunch and talkathon …”
This mixmaster of poem “Jabberwocky” and movie “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Any More” (at least not in L.A.) contains six snarky species of word-welding, grammatically called portmanteaus: two separate words combined into one new word.
If verbal blending’s not your syntactic scoreplay, feel free to skip the parade of inventive daffynitions that follow, as recently collected by the Washington Post, and sent to me by Jack O. Summers, who graduated from Cass Tech High School the same time I did decades ago. Magna cum-out-loud-artists that we were.
(I’m on Jack’s mailing list. To date I’ve received a dozen postcards, featuring body builders, Greek statues, lithos from 19th Century Police Gazette tabloids and a melange of colorful stamps from around the world. I’m sure my mail carrier Terry is quite flummoxed when delivering these items. Great fun. Softcore courier content.)
Oh, yes. Portmanteaus. French for “cloaks for carrying.” This frequent “formacation” was hatched by Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), logician, mathematician, High Church Anglican deacon, author of “Alice in Wonderland,” inventor of clever play on words, anagrams, mathematical brain teasers. Unfortunately, no relation to Johnny Depp.
His poems “The Hunting of the Snark” and “Jabberwocky” are rich-mine mockaramas full of puns, put-downs, cryptic puzzles. Screwbollox enough, American author Richard Wallace wrote a 1996 expose that ID’d Carroll as Jack the Ripper, finding in some of Carroll’s anagrams hidden gay messages!
(If Carroll was an invert, a Dorian, a third sex member – Victorian terms for homosexual – there’s little evidence pointing in that direction. Carroll did, however, like to photograph – chastely to be charitable – naked little girls. Boys he found “uninteresting.” If living today, he’d likely be arrested. And not for serial killing.)
“When I use a word,” said Humpty Dumpty, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you CAN make a word to mean so many different things?”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be the master? That’s all.” (So, there! Get snuffed, Alice.)
Here are a few of Carroll’s two-for-ones: slithy – lithe and slimy; mimsy – flimsy and miserable; frumious – fuming and furious. (Some of our own contemporary examples: Blaxploitation, Billary, Watergate, chocoholic, phonathon, walkathon.)
Each year the Washington Post sponsors a Mensa – genius IQ – invitational asking its readers to take any word from the dictionary and alter that word by adding, subtracting, combining, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Put these in your cocktail blender:
Reintarnation: “Coming back to life as a hillbilly.” Foreploy: “Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.” Giraffiti: “Vandalism spray-painted very, very high” Sarchasm: “The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.”
Inoculatte: “To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.” Decafalon: “The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.” Glibido: “All talk and no action.” Caterpallor: “The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.” Abdicate: “To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.”
And these play on words:
Willy-Nilly: “Impotent”; Negligent: “Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.” Lymph: “To walk with a lisp.” Gargoyle: “Olive-flavored mouthwash.” Testicle: “A humorous question on an exam.” Pokemon: “A Rastafarian proctologist.” Frisbeetarian: “The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.” Oyster: “A person who sprinkles his conversation with yiddishisms.” Circumvent: “An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.”
Te(a)xticle that, Sarah Palingroan!