Hybrid referent, portmanteau name

On the NPR word game quiz show Says You! broadcast by KQED-FM on Sunday afternoon (the 22nd): a “bluff round” over the word flumpet. One team of panelists is offered three definitions for the word from the other team, in this case (paraphrasing, since I can’t find the podcast of the original):

1: a lard-based dumpling (no doubt suggested by the /ʌmp/ and the /l/ in flumpet and dumpling)

2: a frowsy (or frowzy), loose woman, and by extension flowers that are wilted, no longer fresh (no doubt suggested by a rhyming association of flumpet with strumpet)

3: a musical instrument combining a flugelhorn and a trumpet (a portmanteau of the words flugelhorn and trumpet, which share the letter U in their spelling: FL – U – MPET)

The three panelists on the other team were each given a card; one card had a definition for flumpet from some reputable source, and the other two said BLUFF. These panelists were given some time, during a musical interlude, to make up plausible definitions. Then the first panel had to decide which definition was the right one.

Digression about the show, from Wikipedia:

Says You! is a word game quiz show that airs weekly in the United States on public radio stations. Richard Sher created the show in 1996 with the guiding philosophy: “It’s not important to KNOW the answers: it’s important to LIKE the answers.”

Recorded in front of live audiences in theaters around the United States, the show is produced in Boston, Massachusetts. Its format, emphasis on witty repartee, and its tagline – “a game of bluff and bluster, words and whimsy” – are reminiscent of the similarly long-running BBC program My Word! (1956-1990).

I admired the inventiveness of definition 2 but thought it might be overly complex; and I didn’t see why someone would want to cross a flugelhorn with a trumpet (they’re very similar already); so I opted for definition 1.

But it was the portmanteau, definition 3: a portmanteau word for a hybrid referent. From Wikipedia:

(#1) A highly decorated flumpet made for Art Farmer

The Flumpet is a hybrid brass horn instrument that shares the construction and timbre qualities of a trumpet and flugelhorn. The Flumpet was invented for [jazz musician] Art Farmer by David Monette and is currently in production by Monette. The Flumpet has a pitch of B♭(B flat).

The Flumpet was designed in 1989 and borrows the three piston valve design of both the trumpet and flugelhorn and shares the same instrument length of a trumpet. The curves on the end of the Flumpet have a resemblance to shepherd’s crooks. The mouthpiece is deeply conical which tapers slightly, as opposed to the trumpet mouthpiece which has an extreme taper to create a bowl shape. The sound of the Flumpet is described as thicker and richer than a flugelhorn and more mellow and rounded than that of a trumpet.

The flugelhorn:


The flugelhorn … is a brass instrument pitched in B♭which resembles a trumpet, but has a wider, conical bore. The instrument known today as the flugelhorn is a descendant of the valved bugle, which had been developed from a valveless hunting horn known in eighteenth-century Germany as a Flügelhorn. (Wikipedia link)

And a trumpet (which I assume you’re familiar with):


A hybrid referent with a portmanteau name — a nicely iconic bit of nomenclature that’s quite common in the world of hybrid organisms (the coywolf, a hybrid of coyote and wolf; the pluot, a hybrid of plum and apricot) and of hybrid cultural artefacts of all kinds (the cronut, a hybrid of croissant and doughnut; the spork, a hybrid of spoon and fork).

Narrow hybrids and broad hybrids. From NOAD:

noun hybrid: 1 Biology the offspring of two plants or animals of different species or varieties, such as a mule (a hybrid of a donkey and a horse): a hybrid of wheat and rye. 2 [a] a thing made by combining two different elements; a mixture [a semantic extension of sense a]: the final text is a hybrid of the stage play and the film. [b] a word formed from elements taken from different languages, for example television (tele– from Greek, vision from Latin). [c] (also hybrid car) a car with a gasoline engine and an electric motor, each of which can propel it. ORIGIN early 17th century (as a noun): from Latin hybrida ‘offspring of a tame sow and wild boar, child of a freeman and slave, etc.’.

Sense 1 is a narrow sense of hybrid, from biology: the contributing organisms must be close enough genetically to be able to interbreed — different varieties of one species (Labrador retriever and poodle, making a labradoodle; ornamental hybrids of plants in general) or closely related species (lions and tigers, making a liger or a tiglon; various Prunus hybrids, of plum, apricot, peach, and nectarine, making a pluot, nectaplum, or peachcot).

Other combinations of organisms are fantastical (the hippogriff, with the body of a horse and the wings and head of an eagle) — or, in the world of modern genetics, the result of DNA manipulations (GloFish, zebra fish with jellyfish DNA that makes them fluorescent). These are often called hybrids in ordinary language — the extended sense 2 above — though the technical  term for such animals is chimera; see my 9/7/12 posting “Still more fun with initialisms”, on the original creature the Chimera, and on chimera then used for “any mythical or fictional animal with parts taken from various animals”, and for preposterous chimeras, like a cauliflower sheep.

But the world of hybrids in the extended sense goes far beyond these biological chimeras, to take in cronuts, sporks, pizza bagels, Swiss Army knives, and much much more.

Flumpets, on the other hand, are combinations of very closely related things, quite parallel to labradoodles in that respect; they’re like hybrids in the narrow sense. Then we go out from there to more distant combinations, like the fluba. From the Classic fm site, in “The 13 weirdest musical instruments ever”:

(#4) Jim Self on his fluba

14. Fluba. The brainchild of legendary tubist and general low-end enthusiast Jim Self (with the help of brass manufacturer Robb Stewart), the Fluba is exactly what you might imagine it is – a hybrid of a flugelhorn and a tuba. Which means it’s a tuba-sized flugelhorn. Self-explanatory, really.

And on from there to wind instruments (brass or woodwinds) combined with keyboard instruments, and other ingenious hybrids.

Paradigmatic and syntagmatic. In the world of unintentional speech errors, there are two ways in which words combine: in a paradigmatic error, through competition for the same position in the stream of speech production (instead of choosing between sheep and goat, you in effect get them both in shoat or geep) or in a syntagmatic error, by compression of two succeeding words into one (aiming for Barack Obama, you get Barama). In the speech error literature, unintentional errors of the first sort are called blends, those of the second sort telescopings.

There’s a parallel distinction in the world of intentional portmanteaus. The most common examples are of combinations of alternatives, as in flugelhorn + trumpet or tuba, giving flumpet or fluba. But occasionally there are instances of the telescoping type, as in this posting by Emma Wartzman on the 21st on the bon appétit magazine website, “This Plum Crumble (Prumble???) Is the Underdog Dessert of the Summer: It’s time for pie to take a backseat”:

(#5) Plum-cardamom crumble with pistachios

Yes, prumble, yummy prumble.

One Response to “Hybrid referent, portmanteau name”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Peter Schickele, as part of his “P.D.Q. Bach” shtick, invented the tromboon, an instrument with a trombone slide and a bassoon mouthpiece, and, somewhat surprisingly, playable.

    I am also reminded that we haven’t listened to Says You in ages, and should check it out once in a while, although it really hasn’t been the same since Sher’s death.

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