Morning name: elephantoplasty

So that was this morning’s name, and I came to consciousness in a fit of giggles. It’s a piece of word play from Monty Python.

The YouTube clip, with its intro:

An interviewer (John Cleese) talks to a very unorthodox plastic surgeon (Graham Chapman). From “Monty Python’s Matching Tie and Handkerchief.”

The script:

Cleese: Tonight on “Who Cares” we examine the frontiers of surgery, and with us is the international financier and surgeon, Reg LeCrisp, and his most successful patient to date, the Elephant Mr George Humphries.

Humphries: (elephant bellows)

Cleese: Um, Mr. LeCrisp, the surgery on Mr. Humphries is truly remarkable, but why an elephant?

Chapman: Well, that was just a stroke of luck really, an elephant’s trunk became available after a road accident, and uh Mr. Humphries happened to be walking past the hospital at the time…

Cleese: And what was Mr. Humphries’ reaction to the transplant of the elephant’s organs?

Humphries: (elephant bellows continually)

Chapman: Surprise, at first, and then later shock and deep anger and resentment; but his family were marvelous, they helped pull him through.

Cleese: How long was he in the Hospital?

Chapman: Well, he spent the first three weeks in our Intensive Care Unit, and then eight weeks in the Zoo.

Cleese: I see… Is Mr. Humphries now able to lead a fairly normal life?

Chapman: No. Oh no, no. No, he still has to wash himself in a rather special way, he can only eat buns, and he’s not allowed on public transport, but I think these are very minor problems…

Cleese: Mmm Hmm

Humphries: (continues bellowing vociferously throughout)

Chapman: (resuming from last statements) … when you consider the very sophisticated surgery which Mr. Humphries has undergone. I mean, each of those feet he’s got now weighs more than his whole body did before the “Elephantoplasty”, and the tusks alone…

Cleese: (cutting him off) Uh some years ago you were the center of a controversy both from your own medical colleagues and from the Church when you grafted a pederast onto an Anglican Bishop…

Chapman: Well, that’s the ignorance of the Press if I may say so, we’ve done thousands of similar operations it’s just that this time there was a Bishop involved… I wish I could have more Bishops, I…

Cleese: (again cutting him off) Is uh lack of donors a problem?

Chapman: There just aren’t enough accidents. It’s unethical and time consuming to go out and cause them, so we’re having to rely on whatever comes to hand: chairs, tables, floor cleaning equipment, drying up racks, pieces of pottery; and these do pose almost insurmountable surgical problems. What I’m sitting on in fact is one of our more successful attempts. This is Mrs. Dudley. She had little hope of survival, she’d lost interest in life; but along came this very attractive mahoghany frame and now she’s a very comfortable Chesterfield.

Cleese Mmm Hmm… I see… (traffic noises, feet running, someone says “excuse me”…)

The word play. At the risk of explaining a bit of humor to death…

The joke turns on the word rhinoplasty ‘plastic surgery performed on the nose’, in which the rhino- part is the Greek ‘nose’ stem, as in rhinitis:

inflammation of the mucous membrane of the nose, caused by a virus infection (e.g., the common cold) or by an allergic reaction (e.g., hay fever) (NOAD2)

But also in the English word rhinoceros:

ORIGIN Middle English: via Latin from Greek rhinokerōs, from rhis, rhin- ‘nose’ + keras ‘horn.’ (NOAD2)

(The ordering of the parts of such words in Greek is head-first, the opposite order from English N + N compounds: Greek ‘nose’ + ‘horn’, English horn nose. Similarly, Greek ‘horse’ + ‘river’, English river horse (hippopotamus).)

But some of these Greek names can be informally clipped: hippo for hippopotamus, rhino for rhinoceros. So rhinoplasty can be playfully understood as referring to plastic surgery involving a rhino — say, using a rhino’s horn to surgically transform a human being into something rhino-like.

Then, similarly with an elephant’s trunk: elephantoplasty! And the unfortunate Mr. Humphries.

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