Annals of naming (and lexical semantics and libfixes)

Today’s Zippy wanders across a surreal landscape, with at least two items of linguistic interest: the name of the character Premium Cruiseline (with its modifying noun premium) and the form poodle-napping (with the libfix -nap):

These ingredients, in order:

The name Premium Cruiseline. Bill Griffith is given to naming Dingburger characters after commercial products of all sorts. This time it’s socialite Premium Cruiseline, named after high-end cruise lines and ships. You can look, for example, at this Travel Weekly website with a list of premium cruise lines and ships, among them two especially notable items:

Cunard Line, founded in 1840 as a British trans-Atlantic steamship line – Mauretania, Lusitania, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth — now offering the Queen Elizabeth 2 and Queen Victoria as well as a new Queen Mary 2

Holland America Line, formerly a Dutch shipping line and passenger line, 1873-1989, before becoming a cruise line

There are your basic cruiselines, and there are your premium cruiselines. And in fact, beyond that, your luxury cruiselines, some of them listed on a Cruise Critic website, “10 Best Luxury Cruise Ships”.

The modifier premium (and luxury). Among the uses of the noun premium in NOAD2 is one glossed:

a sum added to an ordinary price or charge: customers are reluctant to pay a premium for organic fruit.

with several specialized uses springing from this one, among them:

– a sum added to interest or wages; a bonus.

– [as modifier] relating to or denoting a commodity or product of superior quality and therefore a higher price: premium beers.

That is, premium beer and premium cruiseline (and premium underwear, which I’ll come to soon) are N + N compounds, with the first N functioning as a modifier of the second, head, N. The Oxford dictionaries, NOAD included, are inconsistent in how they treat such an item, sometimes labeling it as a noun (“as modifier”, as above), sometimes as an adjective (often, though not always when called for, labeled “attrib. only”, meaning used only as a prenominal modifier, not as a predicative). In fact, the latter treatment is the one NOAD2 gives to luxury, often a parallel to premium:

noun luxury an inessential, desirable item that is expensive or difficult to obtain: luxuries like raspberry vinegar and state-of-the-art CD players | he considers bananas a luxury.

adjective luxury luxurious or of the nature of a luxury: a luxury yacht | luxury goods.

(Note that the “adjective” luxury is in fact attributive-only and resists degree modification — *a very luxury yacht — so it’s not very adjective-like at all.)

As it happens, the basic – premium – luxury contrast in cruiselines has come up in this blog before, in regard to brands of men’s underwear. From a 11/28/15 posting “The revolution in men’s underwear”:

[The firm] Daily Jocks offers a number of lines of what have come to be called premium brands, emphasizing not just comfort but also style and sexiness, and in cost a step up from basic brands like Fruit of the Loom and Jockey. In fact, the world of men’s underwear has undergone a kind of revolution, from the days when 75% of men’s underwear purchases were made by women to the current scene, where only 25% are; men have become fashion-conscious and are shopping for themselves these days. Meanwhile, underwear modeling has gone from just a routine specialty in male modeling to a high-fashion specialty; men with good looks and hot bodies vie with one another for modeling jobs, and celebrities in sports and entertainment are courted by premium brands (for big bucks) to represent them in advertising.

Now the next stage: from premium brands to luxury brands. On to a wonderful piece by Guy Trebay in the NYT‘s Styles section on the 26th:  “As Personal as Luxury Gets: Men’s underwear goes premium, entering triple-figure territory” (head in print), “A Pair of Boxers for $400? Men’s Underwear Goes High-End “ (head on-line).

Poodle-napping. Then there’s the nominal gerund poodle-napping in the cartoon, a nominal use of the PRP form of a presumable verb poodle-nap, apparently formed by analogy to dog-nap, itself apparently formed by analogy to kidnap — or (another interpretation, one I now favor) we’re dealing with a libix –nap ‘to steal ( for the purpose of obtaining ransom’, liberated from kidnap at some point in the past (and now used in new formations like data-napping).

The full story has its entertaining moments. We start with the verb kidnap, from NOAD2:

take (someone) away illegally by force, typically to obtain a ransom. ORIGIN late 17th cent.: back-formation from kidnapper, from kid [‘child, young person’, referring to the typical victim of kidnapping] + slang nap ‘nab, seize’

The idea here is that this was a simple back-formation, like the back-formation of the verb edit from the noun editor; whether early users of kidnap appreciated that the element nap was itself a slang verb, later users surely didn’t; for them, kidnap was a unitary verb. But then, analogical formations like dognapping came along, and kidnap was open to reanalysis as kid + a theft verb nap, and the obsolete verb nap ‘nab’ got a new life as a libfix.

Wikipedia on dognapping the practice (which has been common for about a century) and dognapping the word, where the word is treated only in a nominal gerund use:

Dognapping is the crime of taking a dog from its owner with the intention of demanding a ransom. The word is derived from the term kidnapping. Historically in the United States, dogs had been stolen and sold on for medical research, but the introduction of the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 reduced these occurrences. The profit available to dognappers varies based upon the value of the dog or the amount that its original owners are willing to pay as ransom.

Dognapping is not a recent development, with reports of dogs being held by ransom since the 1930s. Harvard students kidnapped Yale’s mascot Handsome Dan II in March 1934, which was reported by the media as “dognapping”. By July of the same year, what was considered by the press to be Chicago’s first case of dognapping was solved with the return of a Boston Terrier named Kids Boot Ace, who had been missing for five months.

The first high-profile case of dognapping for monetary ransom occurred in 1948. The editor of House & Garden magazine, Richardson Wright, had a Pekingese puppy taken by a passing motorist who later telephoned to demand from him “as much money as you can pay” for the dog’s return. By 1952, gangs of dognappers were reported in the media.

But the nominal gerund dognapping and the agentive noun dognapper are not the only attested forms of a putative verb dognap; passive uses of the PSP are reasonably common as well (Reveille VI was dognapped, this man’s German shepherd was dognapped, owner wants to know if missing dog was dognapped, …), and there are attestations of finite forms as well (if someone dognaps  [PRS] / dognapped [PST] … ).

Then there are a respectable number of attestations of data napping / data-napping / datanapping, referring to ransomware that holds critical files hostage. (Obviously, these attestations are pretty recent, since the practice is pretty recent.) Again, the PRP as nominal gerund is by far the most frequently attested form, but others are also out there, including the PST, in things like if someone data napped your PC, …

In any case, it looks like -nap is yet another libfix, attached to a N stem to yield a theft-for-ransom V.



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