Monster Mash

Yesterday’s Bizarro:

Plays on Frankenstein and werewolf.

Frankenstein. The customary plays on Frankenstein have the element Franken- extracted as a libfix —  the creations are of the form Franken- + N — while in the cartoon it’s -enstein that’s been extracted: the creations are of the form MaleFirstName + -enstein, playing on the fact that Frank is a male first name, replacing this monosyllabic name  by others (Jeff, Doug).

In my inventory of libfix postings last year, I noted that Franken- was an element that I had not yet posted about. So, some comments here.

The model seems to have been Frankenfood for Frankenstein food, a telescoping-style portmanteau. From the Frankenfood entry (10/26/01) on Paul McFedries’s Word Spy site:

n. Food derived from genetically modified (GM) plants and animals.

Example Citation:
“It’s only natural that we cringe at the artificial: It goes against the grain. So it’s no real wonder that many people are feeling uncomfortable about the recent proliferation of genetically engineered crops. In the last few months, protests have sprung up all over Europe, and the French have taken to calling these products ‘Frankenfood.’ ”
—K.C. Cole, “Genetically Altered Food Unnatural? Not Really,” Los Angeles Times, October 21, 1999

First Use:
“To the Editor: ‘Tomatoes May Be Dangerous to Your Health’ (Op-Ed, June 1) by Sheldon Krimsky is right to question the decision of the Food and Drug Administration to exempt genetically engineered crops from case-by-case review. Ever since Mary Shelley’s baron rolled his improved human out of the lab, scientists have been bringing just such good things to life. If they want to sell us Frankenfood, perhaps it’s time to gather the villagers, light some torches and head to the castle.
PAUL LEWIS, Newton Center, Mass., June 2, 1992”
— “Mutant Foods Create Risks We Can’t Yet Guess,” The New York Times, June 16, 1992

More generally, on the libfix franken-, on Michael Quinion’s affixes site:

Genetically modified.

[The first element of the name of Baron Victor Frankenstein, from Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus of 1818.]

Activists sometimes describe genetically modified foods as Frankenstein foods, evoking Frankenstein’s creation of a living being, in popular understanding a terrifying monster who turns on his creator and destroys him. The first element of his name appears in various invented words—frankenfood, frankencrop, frankenfruit, frankenplant—with the technology known generically as frankenscience (all are often written with initial capital letter). They are all deeply pejorative.

But Franken- hasn’t confined itself to the GM world. Here’s an extension (from Quinion’s World Wide Words #675 of 1/30/10) to other monstrous things:

Frankenstorm: The recent wild weather in California was the subject of a report from the Associated Press which appeared in various newspapers on Monday. Karen Courtenay read it in the Boston Globe: “A team of scientists hunkered down at the California Institute of Technology to work on a ‘Frankenstorm’ scenario – a mother lode wintry blast that could potentially sock the Golden State.

Werewolf. The first element of this word is usually traced to OE wer ‘man’ (though that etymology isn’t entirely certain), so that a werewolf is a ‘man-wolf’. OED2’s gloss:

A person who (according to mediæval superstition) was transformed or was capable of transforming himself at times into a wolf [cites from OE on]

At some point, the element were- was extracted from werewolf, to serve as the basis for other shapeshifter names:

Nowadays, it seems that almost everybody has forgotten about werebeasts other than the werewolf. Werewolves certainly dominate the fiction. They tend to dominate the nonfiction as well: books about shapeshifters tend to have titles with the word “werewolf” in them, and tend to mostly discuss werewolves. These books will always mention that other varieties (such as werecats) exist; and if you’re lucky these books might actually relate a few legends. (link)

This site goes on to list, among other creatures, the werecat, werebear, wereseal, werefox, wererat, weredog, wereraven, weredeer, and werereptile

Fanciful plays on were- abound. Most famously:

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a 2005 British clay-mation animated comedy film, the first feature-length Wallace and Gromit film.

… The film followed eccentric inventor Wallace (voiced by Peter Sallis) and his intelligent but silent dog, Gromit, as they come to the rescue of the residents of a village which is being plagued by a mutant rabbit [a monstrous half-Wallace half-rabbit] before the annual vegetable competition. (link)

But also:

Curse of the Were-weasel: The official blog of the North American chapter of Were-creatures Anonymous (link)

Dragonbreath: Curse of the Were-wiener, by Ursula Vernon: Danny Dragonbreath and his best friend Wendell thought the hot dog from the school cafeteria looked a little . . . off. Then things got weird when the hot dog bit Wendell, and weirder still when Wendell started to sprout back hair. Could Wendell be morphing into a . . . (cue ominous music) were-wiener? All evidence points to yes. And unless he and Danny can get past the lunch ladies and slay the alpha-wurst, the whole school could be infected. (link)

When the epitome of the Brittany Spears Womanizer Song has a one night stand with a witch, he soon finds himself cursed to literally see how the other half lives every evening, because when the sun goes down Patrick Dalton becomes Patricia in the Jason Burns penned dramedy, The Curse of the Were-Woman. [comic strip/graphic novel] (link)

Emily Skaftun, The Curse of the Were-Penis [yes, a penis that takes on a life of its own] (link)

All these creations are of the form were- + N. But in the Bizarro strip, it’s the first element that varies, not the second (which is the constant wolf). The formations in the strip turn on the phonetic similarity (or, for some speakers, identity) between the were- of werewolf and the interrogative where: the vowel in were- is either mid (AmE  [ɛ] or [e]), as in where, or high (AmE  [ɪ] or [i]), as in we’re, and the initial consonant of were– is voiced, like the initial consonant of where for many speakers (while others have a voiceless initial, often described as “aspirated”). In any case, the initial element were- is up for interpretation as interrogative where, and then other interrogatives — who and what — can replace where.

We’ve been in this neighborhood before, in a posting on Christian Morgenstern’s poem Der Werwolf, which plays on the identity of the element Wer- with the German interrogative wer — and goes on to decline the interrogative. One of the English translations in that posting (in a comment by Stephen P. Gross) chooses instead to play on alternative wh-interrogative words, as in the Bizarro cartoon.

In any case, part of the cleverness of the cartoon is in playing on parts of Frankenstein and werewolf that are not commonly varied: the Frank of Frankenstein, the were of werewolf. All for a pickup game of basketball in Monsterville.

5 Responses to “Monster Mash”

  1. the ridger Says:

    Of course, there’s the exchange from Young Frankenstein:

    (Howl is heard)
    Frankenstein: Werewolf.
    Igor: Werewolf? There wolf (pointing). There castle.
    Frankenstein: Why are you talking like that?
    Igor: I thought you wanted to.

  2. rodii Says:

    One of my favorite gags in Yellow Submarine is when they encounter Frankenstein and Ringo says “I used to date his sister Phyllis,” which is a nice reanalysis of Philistine, I always thought.

  3. arnold zwicky Says:

    Turns out my grand-daughter is a fan of the Dragonbreath books.

  4. Still more fun with initialisms « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] has aroused substantial opposition, often couched as an aversion to “Frankenfood”. (See this posting for the history of the portmanteau Frankenfood and of other Franken- words.) Opponents were […]

  5. The upcoming storm « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] to genetically modified (GM) organisms (e.g., Frankenfood), but it has wider uses as well, as in this posting from earlier this […]

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