Puns and metatheses

Two recent cartoons: a Rhymes With Orange from the 8th, with a hall / howl pun; and a One Big Happy from December 13th in which Ruthie struggles with the word permanent:



The town howl. The easy part is recognizing the creatures in #1 as canid pack animals, given to howling. The somewhat trickier bit is recognizing that town howl is a pun on town hall, that town hall is a beheaded version of town hall meeting, and that town hall meetings are features of North American political life. From NOAD:

noun town hall: [a] a building used for the administration of local government. [b] (also town hall meeting) North American an event at which a politician or public official answers questions from members of the public: during Tuesday’s town hall, some residents wondered why state or federal funds couldn’t be used to shore up the hospital’s finances | supporters turned out in large numbers to hear the presidential candidate speak during a town hall meeting in Pensacola.

On beheadings, in which the N head of an Adj + N composite or N + N compound is truncated, see my 12/3/17 posting “Off with their heads!”, which announced the creation of a Page on beheadings.

pernamint. For permanent: p .. m .. n .. n > p .. n .. m .. n, which could be dissimilatory or could be an eggcornish attempt on Ruthie’s part to find some meaningful piece of the word (in this case, mint) — something Ruthie is known for doing. (Or both, of course.)

However, the alteration m .. n > n .. m runs counter to a tendency, in child language and more generally, to favor sequences of stops ordered from more front to more back points of articulation. In particular, as reported in A. M. Zwicky & A. D. Zwicky, “Patterns first, exceptions later” (in Channon & Shockey (eds.), To Honor Ilse Lehiste: Ilse Lehiste Pühendusteos, 1987):

A number of children acquiring English have been reported as sporadically or even regularly replacing n … m sequences by m … n; our daughter Elizabeth, who for some months replaced animal by aminal and cinnamon by cimmanon, indeed transformed the first of these sequences in novel or nonsense words into the second.

But this is merely a tendency, not a constraint on production, and the opposite development is also possible.

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