Franken meets gate

Today in the CHE‘s Lingua Franca blog, a “Frankenwords” posting by Geoff Pullum combining Halloween topicality, references to the East Coast superstorm, and allusions to Zwicky & Pullum on “Plain morphology and expressive morphology” (1987). The combining form Franken- plays the major role in the piece, but the popular -gate comes up as well.

Then it turns out that these two have danced together, sort of.

Geoff’s wonders about terminology:

… words like Frankenstorm and Frankenweenie are themselves formed via the sort of unnatural combination of parts that the franken- part alludes to. We need a technical term for them, and I am not sure there is one. I suggest we call them frankenwords.

He adds Eddie Van Halen’s mongrel guitar, known as the Frankenstrat (from the Fender Stratocaster that supplies some of its elements), and of course frankenfood. He goes on:

Of course, franken- is not necessary in a frankenword: I intend the term to connote the more general property of being made not by grafting of etymologically genuine parts with independent meanings but by bolting together pieces ripped from living words ignoring the morphological joints.

The -gate words (referring to scandals) provide another set of examples. Geoff gives an out-of-the-way, and very nice, example:

… one of the less-known scandals was called Shawinigate. This was a 1999 scandal in Canada, when Jean Chrétien, then the prime minister, was alleged to have profited from some real estate deals in his home constituency of Shawinigan, Quebec. So the Shawini- part is no more a genuine morphological unit than the -gatepart. This is a classic frankenword, stitched together from recycled letter strings.

I looked at -gate words a month ago, here.  And dreadful-weather words, including Frankenstorm, more recently, here. The storm posting went on to cite Frankenfranken, referring to an Al Frankenoid creature made of an “unnatural combination of parts”, in Geoff’s phrasing; the first franken is the combining form, the second a reference to Al Franken.

Then I thought to search for Frankengate, and came across references to a minor scandal of 2005. From a blog posting of 8/2/05 entitled “Frankengate?”:

Michelle Malkin and Brian Maloney are keeping the Air America scandal [about investment money used to launch Air America] in front of us. Hugh Hewitt and Ed Morissey are also on it.

And from a blog comment (on the thread “Pelosi Erases Gingrich’s Long-Standing Fairness Rules”) of 1/7/09 (reproduced here without editing):

Between this mess, the Gov. Blago [Rod Blagojevich] scandal, Frankengate, and the election of Kenyan national [Barack Obama], I honestly feel that our whole system of government has been overthrown from withing.

There are more, and they all have Franken + gate, and the gate is in fact the ‘scandal’ element -gate. But the Franken is just Al Franken’s family name, not the ‘unusual combination of parts’ element. So it’s cute — but it’s not Franken- plus -gate.

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