Dilating eye teeth

In Bizarro-world, phrasal blends/portmanteaus are commonplace. Like this combo of dilate someone’s eyes (referring to dilating the pupils, in the fashion of optometrists and ophthalmologists examining a patient’s eyes) and eye teeth (referring to the canines, especially the upper canines; the canines are also known as dog teeth and fangs), with a concomitant mashing up of the semantics of the two expressions:

The eye teeth (or eye-teeth) are so called because they are directly under the eyes. The upper canines are in fact the closest teeth to the eyes. (For some discussion of the idiom (would) give one’s eye teeth (for something, or to do something), see Michael Quinion’s discussion here.)

In any case, eye tooth is another in a long line of noun-noun compounds in which the relation between the two nouns is distant, in fact inscrutable without some special knowledge. In most of the cases that have drawn attention on Language Log and in this blog — canoe wife and pumpkin bus, for example — this special knowledge is ad hoc and contextual, but there are other cases where the relation between the nouns goes back in history, and the compound has become a fixed, and semantically opaque, expression. That’s what happened to eye tooth, and also to milk tooth (a.k.a. baby tooth, deciduous tooth, temporary tooth, or primary tooth) and wisdom tooth (referring to a third molar). The first milk tooth erupts at roughly 5 to 8 months of age, when the baby is suckling, and the wisdom teeth are the last teeth to erupt (or become impacted), at roughly 17 to 25 years of age, by which time some degree of adult astuteness has, one hopes, been attained.

7 Responses to “Dilating eye teeth”

  1. ShadowFox Says:

    … with a concomitant mashing up of the semantics of the two expressions

    I’d like a pair of seeing-eye dog teeth, please!

  2. rhhardin Says:

    Among the classics is B. Kliban’s cartoon account of plural fence
    fent/fents

  3. rhhardin Says:

    The Onion: Increasing Number Of Parents Opting To Have Children School-Homed

  4. to school-home « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] By arnoldzwicky In a comment on my “Dilating eye teeth” posting, Ron Hardin noted a wonderful story from the Onion, beginning: Increasing Number of Parents Opting […]

  5. Phrasal overlap portmanteaus « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] And then I returned to the topic on this blog, on “dilating eye teeth”, here; this one’s a combo of the VP dilating [one's] eye and the (opaque) N + N compound eye […]

  6. A portmanteau crop « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] 3/22/10: Dilating eye teeth (link) […]

  7. New frontiers in overlaps « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] 3/22/10, Dilating eye teeth (link) […]

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