New frontiers in overlaps

Geoff Pullum posted on Language Log today on what we might call sentential overlap portmanteaus, in ads from Swiss Life and in the Jimmy Webb song “Honey, Come Back”. A sampling:

[Swiss Life] I love my house now belongs to my ex-wife [I love my house / my house now belongs to my ex-wife]

[Jimmy Webb] Honey, come back I just can’t stand each lonely day’s a little bit longer than the last … [Honey, come back I just can’t stand each lonely day / each lonely day‘s a bit longer than the last]

(Boldfacing marks the shared material that is compressed in the result.)

This is like the phrasal overlap portmanteaus I’ve written about on several occasions, starting with the posting “Sweet tooth fairies” (sweet tooth / tooth fairy) — general discussion here, morphological examples (Guggenheimlich: Guggenheim / Heimlich) here — but now at the sentential level. Sentential overlap portmanteaus.

All these examples are intentional creations, bits of language play, but similar-looking examples can occur as inadvertent blends; at the sentential level, such errors are a type of anacoluthon, which I’ve called shift anacoluthon (you start out producing one sentence, but at some point shift inadvertently into another).

The simplest POP (phrasal overlap portmanteau) examples involve two overlapping two-word expressions (like sweet tooth and tooth fairy), but there are more complex examples (Monty Python’s kick him in the Balls Pond Road: kick him in the balls and Balls Pond Road). Swiss Life and Jimmy Webb have moved from the phrasal to the sentential level.

Back at the phrasal level, a recent entertaining find is the name Vanna WhiteTrash (Vanna White + white trash), given to a bulldog (bulldog article by Benoit Denizet-Lewis in the NYT Magazine 11/27/11), but also chosen by a rollerderby girl on the Texas Rollergirls team Hustlers. (The names chosen by rollerderby girls are wonderful, as good as drag queen names.)

Now, an updated inventory of POP postings (on this blog unless otherwise noted):

AZ on LLog, 1/24/10, Sweet tooth fairies (link): with a link to an Erin McKean column on the phenomenon

3/22/10, Dilating eye teeth (link)

5/13/10, Phrasal overlap portmanteaus (link): fond memory foam bed; Monty Python’s Word Association Football (esp. “kick him in the Balls Pond Road”)

6/12/10, Morphological overlap portmanteaus (link): or playmanteaus (e.g. Guggenheimlich Maneuver)

6/13/10, The Commencement pun crop (link): with Bizarro playmanteaus

6/18/10, Telescoped POPs (link): ? Larry King Kong telescoped to Larry Kong

6/27/10, Telescoped POPs with a twist (link)

6/28/10, POP games (link)

8/6/10, Zippy taken over by valley girl (link): including Square Root Beer

2/4/11, A portmanteau crop (link): Boomchickadee, with an inventory of POP postings up to that date

6/12/12, Sunday punnies (link): Elephantom of the Opera

7/2/11, AZBlogX, Hot wieners for the 4th (link): Red, White & Blue Balls

7/3/11, telephonoscopy (link): intestinal tract house

7/25/11, Name chains (link): Al Gore Vidal Sassoon

8/24/11, Cartoon POP (link): bento boxer

11/26/11, Bizarro POP (link): clown college football widow

30 Responses to “New frontiers in overlaps”

  1. KevinM Says:

    Check out Lyle Lovett’s What Do You Do/The Glory of Love, a cheatin’ song with a compressed barroom encounter:
    Say well
    Hi there
    What’s your
    My name is
    And my wife is at the PT and
    I had to
    You know we could
    I buy you
    Is that a Scotch and so a
    What will it be
    Your place
    Or a place to

    Say man
    What do you think you
    See I’m not that kind of
    Affair is fair
    And right is
    Right around the corner
    Just a block or
    So you know come morning
    You’ll have to leave
    Everything to me

  2. Petex Says:

    Perhaps this is a good occasion to mention Victoria Plum Lines, which are like POPs except that the first and last elements also make a word, compound or set phrase, e,g air force field -> airforce + force field + airfield

    List at

    There are also some circular POPs listed, e,g, dogs body guard dogs…, door mouse trap door…

  3. Ed Says:

    leaving a comment here, because Geoff is (now no longer amusingly) comment-averse. two things:

    1) it’s not a fancy linguistic term, but i would just refer to these things as “before and afters”, probably based on experience with the Wheel of Fortune (and occasionally Jeopardy) category in which the correct responses are always of this overlapping form.

    2) the first “non-sentence” that he lists — “I love my house now belongs to my ex-wife.” — has a fully grammatical sentence parse for me, with a null complementizer between “love” and “my”. it’s true though, that none of the other strings of words are grammatical under any interpretation.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      (1) The Before and After category on tv game shows (Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune) is mentioned in my “POP games” posting, here.

      (2) Zero-marked subject relatives are widespread, but still (I believe) non-standard (zero-marked object relatives are standard). So Geoff’s first example is ok for some speakers but not for others. The remaining examples, however, are out for everybody.

      (3) You’ll see that I’ve almost entirely stopped posting on Language Log. When I post there with comments closed, I get hate mail accusing me of censoring people and insulting the readers’ intelligence. But LLog postings with comments open tend to elicit huge numbers of comments that are all over the map, including some that are decidedly uncivil. Things (so far) work better on this blog (though I do trash a modest number of comments).

  4. mollymooly Says:

    Since the death of Danny La Rue, the best known Irish drag queen is Shirley Temple Bar.

    And of course O. Henry James Joyce Car(e)y Grant.

  5. Richard Says:

    I noticed a strange lyric in an Eminem song – “You’re slowly dying, you’re denying your health / is declining with your self-esteem”

  6. tialaramex Says:

    The Dresden Dolls song “Half Jack” has

    You’ll notice something funny if you hang around here for too /
    Long ago in some black hole before they had the pills to take it back …

    The lines are broken this way both when sung and in the official lyrics and so I think we should assume Amanda did it this way deliberately, just as in examples like “kick him in the Balls Pond Road”.

  7. Daniel Tobias Says:

    There’s the children’s song that starts “Miss Lucy had a steamboat,” (I think some versions have a different name there) where each verse ends in something mildly risque which then becomes the beginning of the following verse, like “…and the steamboat went to / hello operator…”

  8. arnold zwicky Says:

    Robert Coren on Google+:

    My freshman roommates and I once came up with an overlap celebrity (we didn’t call it that) named “Adam-and-Eva Saint Bernard Sean O Henry James Joyce Kilmer”.

    Ah, name chains!

  9. Ray Girvan Says:

    @Daniel Tobias: “Miss Lucy had a steamboat”

    That’s similar to a school rhyme I recall. There are variants, of which one is:

    Up in the mountains, lying on the grass
    I saw a Chinaman sliding on his
    Ask no questions, tell no lies
    I saw a Chinaman doing up his
    Flies are a nuisance, flies are a pest
    I saw a Chinaman doing up his vest.

    @Ed: “now no longer amusingly”

    Yep. It never was terribly funny, and I’m sure I’m not the only one to find the “you can’t be trusted to comment” tone both irritating and insulting.

  10. blahedo Says:

    Your description of them as a mid-sentence shift reminded me of this quote from a Doonesbury a few years back, spoken by a low-level soldier or guard to George W himself:

    “You know sir, you’re not as dumb as I am for starting this sentence.”

    Not quite the same thing, but related. Like Ed, I immediately thought of the Wheel of Fortune before-and-afters when I read the original post.

  11. Anand Says:

    In our childhood days we used to be ardent followers of Cricket. We came up with (similar to Robert Coren roommates) : ‘Mohammad Akram Khan’ : a fictional Cricket player who was blend of following three cricket players:

    Mohammad Wasim
    Wasim Akram
    Akram Khan

    • James Says:

      @Anand: Very amused to read of Mohammad Akram Khan! – my brother and I had “Kapil Devon Malcolm Marshall” in the same way.

  12. Paul Says:

    There’s some conversation analysis/phonetics work on this kind of thing as it occurs in normal conversation (i.e. not in artful word play in poems or advertising or cartoons or whatever) – see, for example Gareth Walker’s 2007 paper “On the design and use of pivots in everyday conversation” in the Journal of Pragmatics.

  13. arnold zwicky Says:

    Paul Obrecht writes (in e-mail) that POPs are popular as names of rock bands in the Washington (DC) area, offering the examples:

    Mary Tyler Morphine
    Shirley Temple of Doom
    Kathleen Turner Overdrive
    Brute Forsyth
    Harmonica Lewinsky
    Brian Jonestown Massacre
    Guns N’Rosa Parks
    Tom Cruise Control
    Lee Harvey Keitel
    Willie Nelson Mandela

  14. Bill Walsh Says:

    I am reminded of the comedy stylings of Wendy Liebman.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      For the uninitiated:

      Wendy Liebman (born February 27, 1961 in Manhasset, New York) is an American stand-up comedian known for her distinctive style which includes quick, clever follow-ups after her jokes. She starts the joke leading it to one direction then changes it. As in “This Thanksgiving I made a 28 pound turkey … pot pie,” or “I really like to shop….lift.” (link)

      Similar examples (from other sources) in my postings on line-splitting and enjambment.

  15. Y Says:

    Band names: there were the Greatful Dead Kennedys, in San Francisco, in the early nineties. The band names you list are not all (or not most) DC bands.

    Songs: there’s also the Shaving Cream song ( ), though the overlapping part is smaller than a word.

    Likewise, Tim Cavanagh’s “I wanna kiss her but she won’t let me.”

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      I’m approving this comment, though it comes from some with the name Y and the e-address This is the last time; if you can’t supply an address for *me* (granting that it won’t appear on the message, but will only be visible to me), I don’t think you have a right to post on my blog, and I’ll trash your comment. (Alas, dozens and dozens of commenters who are known to me personally post under pseudonyms, so I’m unable to address them as known personages.)

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Grateful Dead Kennedys gratefully received. As for “The band names you list are not all (or not most) DC bands”, I was merely quoting my source. I know almost nothing about DC bands; I’m guessing that these are bands that have at some time played in the DC area. The names are enjoyable in any case.

      As for the Shaving Cream song, I posted about it here,

    • CGHill Says:

      The ultimate extension of the “Shaving Cream” theme – which dates to an even-earlier song called “Sweet Violets” – is the semi-infamous “Polka Dot Undies” by Bowser and Blue, in which nearly every line is supposed to end in something rude and yet never quite does. (Lyrics.)

      • arnold zwicky Says:

        “Sweet Violets” posted about here.

        But now we’ve drifted from overlaps to frustrations of expectations — an interesting topic, but not the one I posted about.

  16. metherton Says:

    Compare and contrast the old English rhyme:

    As I was going to St Paul’s
    A lady grabbed me by the elbow
    She said you look a man of pluck
    Come inside and have a ham sandwich
    Twopence threepence sixpence a bob
    All depends on the size of your appetite

  17. Y Says:

    “If I had some ham, I’d have a ham and cheese sandwich, if I had some cheese.”
    Don’t know who came up with that, but it’s old.

  18. TB Says:

    Caryl Churchill’s play The Skriker has an enormous and amazing opening monologue which is full of this kind of thing, although often more complicated. “…out came my secreted garden flower of my youth and beauty and the beast is six six six o’clock in the morning becomes electric…”

  19. This Week’s Language Blog Roundup | Wordnik ~ all the words Says:

    […] Johnson discussed the rudeness of automatic politeness; wondered what exactly is the Chinese language; and discovered the truth about mince pies. At Language Log, snowclones and eggcorns were hung by the chimney with care, with hopes that Newt Gingrich would not be there. Chinese and Pashtu nestled snug in their beds, while visions of Chinglish danced in their heads. Lie detection software made such a clatter, Mark Liberman detected something was the matter. Another Eskimo snow myth Geoff Pullum wanted to dash, along with the vocal fry hubbub (evinced by Kim Kardash). Overlap portmanteus, how fun, how merry. They are also known as sweet tooth fairies. […]

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