Stormy compounds in English

(Extensive references to male genitals, with photos of phallic simulacra, so not to everyone’s taste.)

About a hitherto unstudied class of English N + N compounds that I will call Stormy compounds (in honor of Stormy Daniels, aka Stephanie Gregory Clifford), or Stormies for short. In a stormy, one N is mushroom and the other is a N referring to the penis (penis, phallus, dick, cock, in particular). For example, the subsective resemblance compounds mushroom penis ‘penis resembling a mushroom’ and penis mushroom ‘mushroom resembling a penis’.

Resemblance is one of a small set of canonical semantic relations between the head N2 and the modifier N1 in an N + N compound — relations that are in some sense always available for interpreting such compounds (within the bounds of  real-world and contextual plausibility). Otherwise, there’s an essentially open-ended universe of interpretations specific to the context and the shared experiences of speaker and addressee. In my writing about semantic relations in compounds, I’ve referred to the first set of relations as O-type (to suggest ordinary-type) and the second as X-type (to suggest extraordinary-type); others have used other terminology.

But even for O-type relations, there’s some room for specificity in how particular compounds are understood, and this fact is signficant for stormies.

The O-type relations include AgtSubj (Agent / Subject), PatObj (Patient / Object), PredCop (Predicative / Copulative), Resemblance, Use, and Source. Cartoons have exploited the potential ambiguity between Predicative and Use  interpretations of the compound dog therapist (with therapist ‘psychotherapist’) — ‘therapist who is a dog’ vs. ‘therapist for dogs’ — but there are any number of potential X-type interpretations for this compound.

(Suppose I have several therapists for different aspects of my life, and my friend Terry knows this. Suppose further that one of my therapists always wears a pin in the shape of a dog (in honor of her beloved bull terrier), and Terry knows that. So I can tell Terry that I have an appointment with my therapist at noon, and Terry can ask which therapist, and I can pick out the right one by replying “The dog therapist” — that is, the therapist who’s associated with dogs in a very specific way that Terry and I know but few others do. That’s an X-type interpretation.)

Now focus on dog therapist in its O-type PredCop interpretation ‘therapist who is a dog’. And consider the dog therapists in my 9/22 posting “therapist dog, dog therapist”, in particular the therapist in the Barsotti in #2 there:


and the therapist in the Glasbergen in #4 there:


In these (and other) representations of dog therapists, the therapists are not merely dogs, but dogs behaving stereotypically as human companions — faithful, and adoring. What we don’t see are dog therapists that look like this:

(#3) Pit bull terrier

(A dog therapist cartoon could feature such a dog — but then it would be intended as a meta-cartoon — a commentary on cartoon conventions — or as deliberate surrealism, funny because it flagrantly breaks expectations.)

That is, conventionally, dog therapist is more specific than just a therapist that’s a dog: even O-type compounds can have — in fact, ordinarily do have — some contextually specific content.

On to penises and mushrooms, in particular penis mushrooms. Mushrooms in general are phallic symbols, in the way that guns, skyscrapers, and asparagus are all phallic symbols: all similar to erect penises in a (very) few salient respects, most significantly by being long and (relative to their length) thin. But phallicity in this sense is very schematic, and well short of what would count as actual resemblance. Though many mushrooms are clearly composed of a stem (analogous to the shaft of a penis) and a cap (analogous to the glans penis), many appear not to be — they are (for example) shelves, balls, or filaments — and many plainly stem-and-cap mushrooms — those with cup-like, umbrella-like, or honeycomb-like caps — are strikingly unlike actual human penises in detail.

Some examples. As background, two types of mushrooms of very low phallicity: shelf mushrooms and ball mushrooms:

(#4) Shelf: Grifola frondosa, the maitake mushroom

(#5) Ball: Calvatea gigantea, the giant puffball mushroom

Then, some types of stem-and-cap (and therefore to some degree phallic) mushrooms that nevertheless have caps that are not at all like actual penis heads, and so are poor candidates for penis mushroomhood: caps that are cups (hence, symbolically vaginal), umbrellas, or honeycombs:

(#6) Cup: Pleurotis citrinopileatus, the yellow (or golden) oyster mushroom

(#7) Umbrella: Amanita phalloides, the death cap mushroom

(#8) Honeycomb (deeply pitted): Morchella esculenta, the common morel mushroom

Men: if your glans penis looks like any of these, see a doctor.

#6-8 are, roughly, phallic, but they fall short of resembling actual penises; they aren’t good examples of penis mushrooms.

Two often-cited examples: Phallus impudicus, the common stinkhorn mushroom; and the ‘Penis Envy’ strain of Psilocybe cubensis (the psychedelic shroom). On the first, from Wikipedia:

(#9) Order Phallales, family Phallaceae, genus Phallus, species P. impudicus (Lat. ‘shameless, immodest’), the common stinkhorn

(#10) Common stinkhorn with a mature honeycomb cap, but also a fruiting body resembling a testicle (or testicles) — so, overall, resembling a penis

Phallus impudicus, known colloquially as the common stinkhorn, is a widespread fungus recognizable for its foul odor and its phallic shape when mature, the latter feature giving rise to several names in 17th-century England [prick mushroom, for example]. It is a common mushroom in Europe and North America, where it occurs in habitats rich in wood debris such as forests and mulched gardens. It appears from summer to late autumn. The fruiting structure is tall and white with a slimy, dark olive colored conical head. Known as the gleba, this material contains the spores, and is transported by insects which are attracted by the odor — described as resembling carrion. Despite its foul smell, it is not poisonous and immature mushrooms are consumed in parts of France and Germany.

(Other stinkhorn species are known as the dog stinkhorn (for its resemblance to a canine penis), devil’s fingers, and devil’s dipstick.)

Then a very different penis mushroom: the ‘Penis Envy’ strain of Psilocybe cubensis. From Wikipedia:

(#11) ‘Penis Envy’ mushrooms, with their characteristic caps

Psilocybe is a genus of gilled mushrooms growing worldwide. This genus is best known for the species with psychedelic properties. Psilocybin, psilocin and baeocystin are the main psychedelic compounds responsible for the psychoactive effects of many species in the genus.

… The word Psilocybe comes from the Greek words ψιλός + κύβη, and literally means “bare headed”, referring to the mushroom’s detachable pellicle (loose skin over the cap). It is pronounced with the primary stress on the third syllable, [roughly] SY-loh-SY-bee. [And cubensis refers to Cuba as the location of the first collected examples of the species.]

Mushroom penises. So much for the stormy penis mushroom (though again, with more specificity than you might have expected just from the elements of the compound). On to the stormy mushroom penis (or its most common variant, mushroom dick) — one of a set of N + N compounds denoting penises according to their appearance (beer can dick and needle dick are two others). Once again, a mushroom penis isn’t just any penis that resembles a mushroom, but something more specific: it’s a penis with a dome head, much like the mushroom caps in #11.

Bonus. A chance discovery along the way: penis lipsticks, under this and other names. Lipsticks are, of course, already phallic, but otherwise they don’t resemble penises in any detail. But designers at more than one company have filled that gap. From the Cosmopolitan magazine site on 5/15/16, “Penis-Shaped Lipsticks Are Real, Unfortunately”  by Betty Contreras:


We’ve come across the most random penis-shaped things in the past, so it wasn’t really a surprise when Buzzfeed reported about the existence of these lipsticks [also called lipdicks]…

According to Amazon, these ~*dick sticks*~ are called Princessa USA Mushroom Penis Lipsticks, and they retail for $19.99 for a pack of 12. So yeah, they’re mushrooms and NOT penises! Right!

So, uhm, time to place your orders for your next bachelorette party?

Of course, if you actually use one of these lipsticks, its most salient characteristic, the glans-like tip, rapidly wears away, leaving only the (vein-like) ribbing  to suggest that it’s supposed to represent a penis. It’s become, I suppose, an ex-penis.

3 Responses to “Stormy compounds in English”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Although, as you point out, the mature Amanita phalloides in #7 does not much resemble a human penis, its species name does mean “penis-like” (or “penis-shaped”), and I think when it first emerges the cap more nearly embraces the stem.

  2. Victor Says:

    A better example for “umbrella” would be, uhm, the Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procera) or Shaggy Parasol (Chlorophyllum rhacodes, C. olivieri and C. brunneum), which much more umbrella-like than your average Amanita. They also happen to be good eatin’. The first one I found at 6yo was 45 cm tall, so quite an impressive specimen.

    Oyster mushrooms vary in shape, not just with age but with conditions of growth – King Oyster is the same species as ordinary commercial oyster but is grown (and cooked) differently (and is usually sold under a different Japanese name).

    One shape you appear to have left off is funnel – which appears to be a more pronounced version of the “cup”. The ubiquitous example is Chantarelle, but even more so is Black Trumpet or Horn of Plenty (Craterellus cornucopioides).

    Another, more obscure is a group of antler fungi (different species), particularly Jelly Antler or Yellow Stagshorn (Calocera viscosa). A collection of pics is here

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