In my e-mail, a nice note from cartoonist Wayno about a type of wordplay that he likes to indulge in, exemplified by this Waynovision cartoon:


The title is a portmanteau combination of two overlapping phrases, Checkpoint Charlie and Charlie Parker. And the content of the cartoon involves combining Checkpoint Charlie the place in Berlin and Charlie Parker the jazz saxophonist.

Back in 2011, Wayno mused on his blog about such word play, suggesting the name streptonym for it. On this blog, I’ve used the descriptive label phrasal overlap portmanteau (POP, for short) for such expressions as denoting a hybrid of the referents of the two contributing expressions. So #1 is a Wayno POP.

Checkpoint Charlie Parker. Wayno has supplied me with a number of further POP examples, several of which I’ll cite below, without extensive discussion of the details, but for this one I’ll lay out the contributing parts.

First, Checkpoint Charlie, from Wikipedia:

Checkpoint Charlie … was the name given by the Western Allies to the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War (1947–1991).

East German leader Walter Ulbricht agitated and maneuvered to get the Soviet Union’s permission to construct the Berlin Wall in 1961 to stop Eastern Bloc emigration and defection westward through the Soviet border system, preventing escape across the city sector border from communist East Berlin into West Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie became a symbol of the Cold War, representing the separation of East and West. Soviet and American tanks briefly faced each other at the location during the Berlin Crisis of 1961.

… The name Charlie came from the letter C in the NATO phonetic alphabet; similarly for other Allied checkpoints on the Autobahn from the West: Checkpoint Alpha at Helmstedt and its counterpart Checkpoint Bravo at Dreilinden, Wannsee in the south-west corner of Berlin.

And on Charlie Parker, again from Wikipedia:

Charles Parker, Jr. (August 29, 1920 – March 12, 1955), also known as Yardbird and Bird, was an American jazz saxophonist and composer.

Parker was a highly influential jazz soloist and a leading figure in the development of bebop, a form of jazz characterized by fast tempos, virtuosic technique and advanced harmonies. Parker was a blazingly fast virtuoso, and he introduced revolutionary harmonic ideas including rapid passing chords, new variants of altered chords, and chord substitutions. His tone ranged from clean and penetrating to sweet and somber. Parker acquired the nickname “Yardbird” early in his career. This, and the shortened form “Bird”, continued to be used for the rest of his life, inspiring the titles of a number of Parker compositions, such as “Yardbird Suite”, “Ornithology”, “Bird Gets the Worm”, and “Bird of Paradise”. Parker was an icon for the hipster subculture and later the Beat Generation, personifying the jazz musician as an uncompromising artist and intellectual rather than just an entertainer.

In #1, an African American man is stopped at Checkpoint Charlie and asked to show that he is Charlie Parker not only by displaying his passport, but also by demonstrating his abilities as a jazz musician by improvising on a standard tune on the saxophone. A wonderfully absurd juxtaposition.

Wayno on the streptonym. From Wayno’s blog on 8/11/11, “Whatchamacallit: What the Heck is a Streptonym?”:

It has nothing to do with germs…

One of my recent gags for Dan Piraro’s comic Bizarro was based on a form of wordplay where two phrases are linked by a common word to form a new, surprising combination:

(#2) Möbius strip + strip steak

Last month, Dan did another comic using this same device, linking three famous names to create a rather frightening imaginary creature:

on AZBlog on 7/25/11, “Name chains”, about “a special type of POP (phrasal overlap portmanteau), the “name chain” Al Gore Vidal Sassoon, in a Bizarro::

(#3) Al Gore + Gore Vidal + Vidal Sassoon

I quite like both comics, and have encountered (and used) the same form of wordplay many times. I wondered what it might be called, and was unable to find a satisfying answer. It’s not a pun, a spoonerism, or a malapropism. What is it exactly?

Jeopardy uses it in a category they call “Before & After.” While descriptive, I find the name to be lacking elegance. The Website wordnik calls these constructions “sweet tooth fairies.” This also feels flat, as it simply uses an example of a thing to name the thing.

So, I’ve come up with my own name for a sequential mashup of unrelated phrases: streptonym.

This neologism combines the Greek prefix strepto-, which means “bent,” “twisted,” or “resembling a twisted chain,” with the suffix -onym, meaning “name” or “word” (also from the Greek). In addition to describing the technique, it utilizes it, with the common letter o as the linkage point. Taking a small liberty with the definition of “twisted,” a good streptonym should also have a humorous twist.

… Now, I’m off to breakfast. I might give in to the temptation to try Forbidden Froot Loops.

This blog has a Page on POPs, with links to a considerable number of postings about the phenomenon and examples of it, including links to Erin McKean’s proposal of the label sweet tooth fairies, to my proposal of phrasal overlap portmanteau, to a Monty Python use of word association football, and to POP word games like the one on Jeopardy.

Some further examples of Wayno POPs, either in Waynovision or in collaboration with Dan Piraro in his strip Bizarro:

(#4) Heavy Metal (music) + metal detector

(#5) Loch Ness Monster + monster truck

(#6) Rin Tin Tin + Tintin (on this blog on 1/4/12)

In e-mail I mentioned to Wayno that Dan Piraro in Bizarro and Hilary Price in Rhymes With Orange were both fond of POPs, and he noted that he was friends with both of them and in fact collaborated with both of them. Small worlds and all that.

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