Puns and portmanteaus, polar bears and hippos

Or: zoology, geometry, geography, and medicine. In three visual + verbal jokes that have been floating around the internet. Starting, A, with a punning coordinate bears composition — playing geometrically with polar bear — that came to me from Mike Reaser (who got it from an aggregation source), and a buildup to a portmantriple, C, that came to me from Kim Darnell (who got it from the Exploding Fish Shitposting and Senseless Drivel, Inc. Facebook page) — a combo of geometry, medicine, and animals (hippos rather than polar bears). The first led to more geometric play, B, on polar bear, taking us into medical (specifically psychiatric) territory. And then, bonus, there’s some simple geographic play, D, with polar bear.

The bear corpus, items A and B:

(A1) polar bear and (A2) Cartesian bear

(B1) polar bear and (B2) bipolar bear

Tons of lexical background here. From NOAD2:

noun pole 2: [a] either of the two locations (North Pole or South Pole) on the surface of the earth … that are the northern and southern ends of the axis of rotation…; [b] Geometry a fixed point to which other points or lines are referred, e.g., the origin of polar coordinates…; [c] one of two opposed or contradictory principles or ideas: Miriam and Rebecca represent two poles in the argument about transracial adoption. ORIGIN … < Greek polos ‘pivot, axis, sky’

adjective polar: 1 relating to the North or South Pole: the polar regions; (of an animal or plant) living in the north or south polar region… 3 directly opposite in character or tendency: depression and its polar opposite, mania.

[polar in pl. noun polar coordinates: Geometry a pair of coordinates locating the position of a point in a plane, the first being the length of the straight line (r) connecting the point to the origin, and the second the angle (θ) made by this line with a fixed line; the coordinates in a three-dimensional extension of this system.

(A’) Cartesian vs. polar coordinates of a point

pl. noun Cartesian [aka rectangular] coordinatesMathematics numbers that indicate the location of a point relative to a fixed reference point (the origin), being its shortest (perpendicular) distances [x and y] from two fixed axes [the X and Y axes] … that intersect at right angles at the origin.]

adj. bipolar: 1 [a] having or relating to two poles or extremities: a sharply bipolar division of affluent and underclass; [b] relating to or occurring in both North and South polar regions: bipolar species. 2 [a] (of psychiatric illness) characterized by both manic and depressive episodes, or manic ones only; [b] (of a person) suffering from bipolar disorder.

(A1) shows a polar bear, Thalactos maritimus, so-called because of its Arctic location, in the vicinity of the North Pole — a plump, spheroidal creature. (A2) shows a boxy bear.  Setting things up as A1 bear vs. A2 bear as circular vs. rectangular, corresponding to polar vs. Cartesian coordinates, and opening the way for polar in (A1) to work as a pun on its geographical and geometric senses.

(B1) shows Thalactos maritimus again, but this time explicitly paired with polar coordinates. Then (B2), goofily, gives us a two-headed bear, labeled bipolar bear (with the prefix bi– ‘two’), for which it creates a corresponding system of geometric coordinates — bipolar coordinates, punning on the medical sense of bipolar (sense 2 above). Bipolar bear can then be seen as a portmanteau of bipolar and polar bear, with polar being used in two different senses.

The polar bear / bipolar pun without the geometry:

(B’) Mike Riley, I Taste Soundcartoon of 2/5/11

From Wikipedia on bipolar disorder:

Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic depression, is a mental disorder that causes periods of depression and periods of elevated mood. The elevated mood is significant and is known as mania or hypomania, depending on its severity, or whether symptoms of psychosis are present. During mania, an individual behaves or feels abnormally energetic, happy, or irritable.

And then the bonus, a simple pun on polar bear and bipolar in sense 1b above (making reference to both North and South poles): a John Bell cartoon posted here on 3/28/15:

(D) The polar bear (Arctic) and the penguin (Antarctic)

Now, from polar bears to hippos, in a burst of portmanteaus:


The ingredients: the hypotenuse, from geometry (the longest side of a right triangle, opposite the right angle); Hippocrates (Greek physician, regarded as the father of medicine), from medicine; and the hippopotamus, from zoology. These have an initial /hɪ/ (or /haj/) and a medial /pa/ (or /po/) + a voiceless stop /p t k/, pieces that can be used in portmanteauing.

Which gives us:

hippopotenuse: hippopotamus on a hypotenuse

Hypocrates: hypotenuse with Hippocrates inside it

Hippopocrates: hippopotamus-headed Hippocrates

And then, eek, the portmantriple hippopocranuse.

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