On the portmanteau watch: Boston, coyotes

I’m gripped by the story of the past day’s events in the Boston area, large portions of which are under lockdown as the search continues for 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev — suspected as being responsible, with his older brother Tamerlan (now dead), for the Boston Marathon bombings on Monday and the fatal shooting of an MIT policeman and the wounding of a transit policeman in an exchange of gunfire in Watertown MA last night. In the midst of this, occurrences of the portmanteau Marabomber ((Boston) Marathon + bomber), echoing the name Unabomber. And while I was listening to NPR coverage on KQED, there came a local feature from a naturalist about coyotes, with the portmanteaus coywolf and coydog (referring to coyote-wolf and coyote-dog hybrids, respectively).

I’ll start with the Tsarnaev story, and a map of the crucial locations:

This is familiar territory for me, from my years at MIT. It was shocking to see Boylston Street (in Boston’s Back Bay) in the coverage of the bombing, and now MIT (outside the building that has replaced the one I used to work in) and Watertown (where my wife and I used to do grocery shopping, at the Star Market).

My Cambridge territory up close:

This shows Vassar St., where my MIT office used to be and where, I understand, the MIT policeman was shot and killed yesterday; then Massachusetts Ave. (always called Mass Ave /mæs æv/) leading from MIT through Central Square (with the MBTA subway station marked on the map) and on to Harvard Square; then Concord Ave. running northwest, to Walden St., where Ann and I lived (just south of Concord Ave.).

But now the portmanteaus. First, Marabomber and Marabombing. From the net:

[Civilized Personal Discussion 4/16/13] Ted: Hey Merl! If the Marabomber turns out to be that Saudi grease-ball here on a student visa, (let’s say there’s conclusive video of him buying then planting the cookers) are YOU cool with droning him right away no question axed? You know… in an open field somewhere after a decent head-start? (I am!) (link)

[Skulz  Studios, 4/18/13] John ‘dumb ass’ King and CNN muddied the reporting on the Marabombing waters. HAH! The fools reported the FBI had arrested a “darkie” and then and then, King and CNN had to correct themselves. Oh dang if that is not about hilarious.

It turns out that Marabomber had been coined at least once before, in connection with a different incident in 1996. Two cites unearthed by Victor Steinbok and reported to ADS-L on the 17th:

“The marabomber”, by Jack McCallum & Richard O’Brien (Sports Illustrated 5/13/96, Vol. 84 Issue 19, p. 28.)

Abstract: Reports that a woman called police after marathoner Don Holshuh asked her to mail a package for him. Holshuh handing the package, which contained the runner’s warmup outfit, to the woman before the start of the Boston Marathon; The woman’s fear that the package contained a bomb.

“The Boston Marabomber”, by Amby Burfoot & Marty Post (Runner’s World August 1996, Vol. 31 Issue 8, p. 19)

Abstract: Reports on Boston Marathon participant Don Holshuh’s package containing marathon warmup clothes that a woman thought contained a bomb. Woman’s preoccupation with Unabomber story; police investigation of the package; local newspapers’ tagging of Holshuh as the ‘Marabomber.’

(If you search for marabomber, you’ll pull up quite a few references to Mara bomber — bomber jackets from the Max Mara womenswear collection. Entertaining but irrelevant.)

Marabomber is a telescoping portmanteau, abbreviating the compound N Marathon bomber. Other portmanteaus are related to copulative compounds;

In some cases, the combination of referents is akin to chemical compounding: a nectaplum [‘nectarine plum’] (here) isn’t both a nectarine and a plum, but a hybrid of the two (similarly, tigons and ligers, etc. here). (link)

The second link is to a posting by Ben Zimmer on animal hybrids:

In modern times, when new animal hybrids are engineered by interbreeding, they are often given name-blends: the offspring of a male lion and female tiger is a liger, the offspring of a male tiger and female lion is a tigon, the offspring of a male zebra and female donkey is a zedonk or zonkey, and so forth. The earliest such interbred name-blend that I’m aware of is cattalo, a cattle-buffalo hybrid dating to 1888 (now [superseded] by beefalo). (link)

That brings us to coyotes, which have adapted well to urban settings and are capable of interbreeding with other species in the genus Canis:

Coywolves are canid hybrids of wolves and coyotes. They have recently become common in eastern North America, where they have been considered eastern coyotes, eastern wolves, or red wolves. (link)

A coydog is the hybrid offspring of a coyote (Canis latrans) and a dog (Canis lupus familiaris). Together they are genetically capable of producing fertile young. (link)

Here the morphological formation mimics the character of the biological relationship.

Dogs can participate in other interbreedings, but these are referred to by simple copulative compounds:

A wolfdog ([or wolf-dog] also called a wolf–dog hybrid or wolf hybrid) is a canid hybrid resulting from the mating of a gray wolf (various Canis lupus subspecies) and a dog (Canis lupus familiaris). (link)

A jackal–dog hybrid [or jackal-dog] is a canid hybrid resulting from a mating between a dog and a golden jackal. Such crossbreeding apparently only occurs in captivity, as such matings in the wild have never been observed. (link)

Now, back to watching the empty streets of Boston and its suburbs.

4 Responses to “On the portmanteau watch: Boston, coyotes”

  1. Ellen Says:

    I have no idea how to pronounce the “coy-” compounds, because I use the standard American pronunciation (sorry, no IPA here) “kahy-OH-tee” for ‘coyote’.

    In the compounds, though, the first element looks like the word ‘coy’: a coy dog. The “kahy” pronunciation just doesn’t seem right, and the “koy” one gives entirely the wrong impression!

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      The coy compounds have the first element pronounced just like the adjective coy — but they have the accentual pattern of N + N compounds, with primary accent on the first element, not Adj + N phrases.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    Ben Zimmer on Visual Thesaurus discusses Marabomber and other Boston-bombing-related vocabulary.

  3. Two portmanteaus in the mail | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] made a brief appearance in this blog earlier this year, in connection with the portmanteau […]

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