David Rakoff on commercial portmanteaus

David Rakoff’s Half Empty (Doubleday, 2010) — a tremendously funny (and often very perceptive) book — takes on the Disney Innoventions Dream House, a monument of “speculative social engineering” (p. 115), opened in 1998

as a hands-on, interactive exhibit that showcased the latest technological devices, such as voice-activated computers, high-definition TVs, and smart-cars.

Rakoff goes on to the name:

While we’re on the subject of outsized claims on that border on the risible, can we pause for a moment to talk about that term, Innovention? A neologism that, in an effort to turbo-charge meaning, takes two perfectly eloquent and unassailable words and by combining them renders both suspect. It is a word developed by a committee, one that can only be spoken unironically if one is being paid to do so, like menus in chain restaurants that list “Snacketizers” and “Appeteasers.” Can’t you just taste the process-mapping? The neon-orange layer of melted reconstituted-milk-solids-derived “cheese,” the pink stratum of animal-protein-cultured “meat”? Vacuum-packed and irradiated and shipped to some franchise that itself was unpackaged from boxes sent directly from corporate, with ready-made walls of homey, weathered fake brick and battered retro license plates. “Innovention” can only leave a similar taste in the mouth. It makes one suspicious, wondering about the ways in which the object in question is found so wanting, so insufficiently innovative or lacking in invention to warrant this linguistic boost. (p.117)

Rakoff isn’t against innovative portmanteaus in general, just the fake-sounding commercial ones. Indeed, he’s willing to perpretrate some himself (bear in mind that pessimism is the theme of the book), as here:

If you were any kind of writer, you’d stay and do battle, wrest the time back and make the day mean something more than the nothing it turned out to be. But you are not that kind of writer. Today has proved as much. As did yesterday and odds are tomorrow will attest to the same. Pregnant with Potential has turned to Freighted with Failure. And so another day fails to meet its promise and has spun out into procrasturbatory entropy. (p. 59)

Then spinning things out into a literal rather than metaphorical reference to masturbation:

The truest depiction of the writing life remains Nicolas Cage in the movie Adaptation, crippled by fear of inadequacy into near-complete inaction, opting to masturbate for the umpteenth time that day. His legs are the only thing visible on-screen, shaking, defeated, his off-camera body working its way to a sad and dribbling (anti)climax, the only thing he will produce the whole day.

Well, most men (I am told) dribble, more or less, rather than spray like a firehose.

But another item in my endless collection of material on masturbation as a trope for useless and unproductive activity.


One Response to “David Rakoff on commercial portmanteaus”

  1. Robert Says:

    Disney appears to specialize in this sort of thing. No doubt you recall that a friend of both yours and mine was employed there for a while as an “imagineer”.

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