sonneteer

A recent Dinosaur Comics takes up poetic form (and English derivational morphology):

T-Rex is puzzling over sonnets, and (in the mouseover) marveling about the word sonneteer.

(Hat tip to John McChesney-Young on Google+.)

The mouseover text:

“sonneteers”: a real thing those who write sonnets get to call themselves. i thought “cartoonist” was a rad job but i didn’t realize i could describe myself as a “comicteer” or, failing that, “dialoguenaut”

One thing at a time.

The sonnet form. T-Rex and Utahraptor thrash about with definitions found on the internet. T-Rex starts promisingly; the Shakespearean sonnet is a 14-line poem in iambic pentameter, an iambic pentameter line has five iambs, and an iamb is a metrical foot, but then the two dinosaurs get bogged down on what metrical feet are (and what sort of foot an iamb is). (They missed the information about the rhyme pattern of the Shakespearean sonnet: an octave of two quatrains, rhyming ABAB CDCD, plus a sestet with a quatrain, EFEF, and a rhyming couplet, GG.)

The verse that T-Rex provides in the last panel is a single quatrain, with rhyme pattern AABB; it could be taken as the beginning of some type of sonnet, but not of course as a sonnet itself.

Meanwhile, lines 3 and 4 are straightforwardly tetrameter (not pentameter), and though lines 1 and 2 can be read with five feet, the reading closest to natural speech has four — with end-accented feet, but only half of them iambic (the others have additional weak syllables). Line 3 is iambic tetrameter: WS WS WS WS. Line 4 (which looks like trochaic tetrameter, with a short 4th foot) can be seen as iambic tetrameter, with a short 1st foot: S  WS  WS  WS.

Summing up: T-Rex’s verse is a 4 x 4 (see here and here), 4 lines of tetrameter; iambic; with rhyme scheme AABB — not especially close to a Shakespearean sonnet. T-Rex should have looked at some examples.

Sonneteer. OED2 has the word (with variant spellings sonnettier, sonnetteer and the etymology: < Italian sonettiere (< sonetto sonnet), or < sonnet n. + -eer suffix) in the sense

A composer of sonnets; freq. in disparaging sense, a minor or indifferent poet.

with cites from 1667 (both Dryden and Wycherly) on, plus verbings in several senses, including ‘to compose sonnets’. The word’s been around for some time, but it’s clearly not much used, so T-Rex can feel pleased to wield it.

But North, speaking as himself in the mouseover, misanalyzes the word — probably with joking intent — when he comes up with comicteer, clearly intended as comic + -teer. The derivational affix in sonneteer, however, is -eer, either the English suffix or from Italian -iere. From Michael Quinion’s affix page for -eer:

Forming nouns and verbs. [French -ier, from Latin -arius.]

Most words in -eer are nouns denoting a person concerned with or engaged in an activity: auctioneer, mountaineer, mutineer, puppeteer. Others can be verbs denoting concern for or involvement with an activity, sometimes with negative associations: commandeer, domineer, electioneer. Some examples can be both nouns and verbs: engineer (Old French engigneor), profiteer, volunteer. Gazetteer, a geographical index or dictionary, was originally a French word for a journalist who worked on a gazette, a news-sheet.

The suffix is mildly active in the language, usually forming nouns. Some relatively recent examples are imagineer (a creative person, in particular one who devises the attractions in Walt Disney theme parks); rocketeer (a person who works with space rockets; a rocket enthusiast); supermarketeer (organisations that operate supermarkets, or their directors); tabloideer (someone who writes for or manages a tabloid newspaper).

That is, the -t- of sonneteer (and puppeteer, profiteer, rocketeer, etc.) belongs to the stem, not to the derivational suffix.

(Of course, when you attach -eer to comic, you’re stumped as to how to spell the result: neither comiceercomickeer, nor comicseer is really satisfactory. So maybe comicteer is a way out.)

As for dialoguenaut, that’s just an innovation with the combining form (or libfix) -naut ‘literal or figurative voyager’ (Quinion entry here).

2 Responses to “sonneteer”

  1. Martyn Cornell Says:

    I rather fancy being a “bloggeteer”, or even a “bloggonaut” – seems somehow fancier than a mere “blogger”.

  2. Sonnet to the G Train « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] the first two lines, I saw that we were probably in Sonnet World, and so it turned out to be. (Dinosaurs, take note: this is a real Shakespearean […]

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