Discontinuous overlapping

Yesterday’s Rhymes With Orange:

That’s the portmanteau pencilguin, denoting something that is both a pencil and a penguin — which is formally of an interesting type.

The contributors to pencilguin both appear, in their entirety, in the result; they share a portion, pen. In these respects they’re like other portmanteaus with overlapping contributors (and no other shortening), like sexpert < sex + expert (see discussion of the formal types by Ben Zimmer, citing John Algeo, here).  But in ordinary overlap-only portmanteaus, we get a piece of the first contributor, followed by the shared material, followed by a piece of the second word, formally:

A B  +  B C  >  A B C  ( s ex  +  ex pert  >  s ex pert )

while in pencilguin, we have:

A B  +  A C  >  A B C  ( pen cil  +  pen guin  >  pen cil guin )

That is, in ordinary overlap-only portmanteaus, the contributors both appear as continuous portions of the result, while in the Rhymes portmanteau, one of the contributors (penguin in this case) is discontinuous in the result. In this example, the shared portion is word-initial, but it could be word-final, as in this invented example:

A C  +  B C  >  A B C  ( Black pool  +  car pool  >  Black car pool ‘Blackpool carpool’ )

Because of the discontinuity, such examples are harder to process than continuous ones, so it’s no surprise that they’re rare. But pencilguin works in the cartoon because its interpretation is guided visually.

3 Responses to “Discontinuous overlapping”

  1. Mark A. Mandel Says:

    Not to be confused with Ursula K. Le Guin…

  2. Robert Says:

    I’m thinking that “pencilguin” is the result of a simple substitution of “pencil” for “pen”, and the fact that the former contains the latter is happy coincidence. (Well, I suppose it’s not coincidence etymologically speaking, but the lexical commonality isn’t necessary to the joke.)

  3. Portmanteaus of past lives « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] at cases where the overlap, or sharing, is not medial, but initial or final. In particular, in this posting I looked at a case of initial sharing of word parts (pencilguin = pencil (A B) + penguin (A C)) […]

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