Thursday, November 03, 2005

Boring News is Occasion to Portmanteau Games.

Getting hooked on the news can be exciting at times or boring like right now. Lately, it’s all about Bush’s Supreme Court Nominee, or “the leak” (granted we participate by posting our own view of the matter, but surely from a different angle).

Well, when the news gets boring, I tend to focus more on how the news is conveyed, and there is one aspect of the political talk I have quite amusing lately – it is the creation of neologisms and more exactly of lexical blends that combine both sounds and meanings from two or more words. (which Lewis Carroll famously labelled portmanteau although it is portemanteau, coat-rack, that is with an 'e' in French).

This week’s Supreme Court nominee whose name is Judge Samuel Alito has been called ‘Scalito”. As a CBS report explains, Scalito is "a nickname of dual purpose: it meshes his name with that of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and is also a translation of 'little Scalia". (with the Italian suffix –ito)

That has got some Italian-Americans angry apparently. They said that no one would dare use derogatory terms referring to the Jewish heritage of Jewish judges. Point taken.. but in my knowledge there has been no genocide of 6 million Italians in the last century, and no country vowing the destruction of Italy. So is it even fair to compare?


Last week, the word "Fitzmas", (a portmanteau of Fitzgerald's - Special Counsel in the Leak Investigation and Christmas) was around. It already has an entry in Wikipedia.

Now the creation of those neologisms is an American hobby, particularly in the political arena (the journalists must have a lot time of their hands.). With blogs of course, this has become a major form of (admittedly useless but fun) entertainment.

This language blog has collected a few interesting exemples:

  • There are those identifying celebrity couples: Bennifer, Brangelina, TomKat.

Or those more derogatory, mostly used in politics:

  • Kerredy (used by the right to compare John Kerry to Ted Kennedy)
  • McStarrthy (used by the left to compare Kenneth Starr to Joseph McCarthy)
  • Hitlery/Hitlary (used by the right to compare Hillary Clinton to Hitler)
  • Bushitler (used by the left to compare George W. Bush to Hitler)

Even when political figures are blended with the names of fictional characters, the connotation is typically negative:

  • Clarence Thomas was called Tom Ass Clarence by Amiri Baraka as an allusion to Uncle Tom;
  • Ronald Reagan was called Ronbo or Ronzo to evoke unfavorable comparisons with Rambo or his onetime costar Bonzo the chimp.
If you come across any other fun portmanteaux, let us know because unlike the National Italian-American Foundation, we dare say that we do have a sense of humor, yep, and however bad it may be, it is there.


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