The news from Nadoland

The 9/3 Pearls Before Swine:


Great big themes:

anti-intellectualism: the distrust of, and rejection of, learning;

the ignorance of the young, elevated to a form of resolute stupidity;

mass hysteria: the amplification of irrational beliefs and behaviors in crowds

All packaged into dumbnado, with the libfix –nado, that entertaining pop-cultural product of the Sharknado movies.

The big ideas. Anti-intellectualism, as treated in Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963). More generally, from Wikipedia:

Anti-intellectualism is hostility to and mistrust of intellect, intellectuals, and intellectualism commonly expressed as deprecation of education and philosophy, and the dismissal of art, literature, and science as impractical and even contemptible human pursuits. Anti-intellectuals present themselves and are perceived as champions of common folk — populists against political and academic elitism — and tend to see educated people as a status class detached from the concerns of most people, and feel that intellectuals dominate political discourse and control higher education.

Totalitarian governments manipulate and apply anti-intellectualism to repress political dissent.

Youthful ignorance, hardened into invincible stupidity — dumbness, as in #1. The young are of course ignorant of many things; but we expect them to learn, as in this Bizarro from 2/2/12 (understanding stupid as ‘ignorant’):


Sometimes, however we get arrested development.

Mass hysteria. In deliberative reasoning, relying on the collective wisdom of a community can yield high-quality decisions; see James Surowiecki‘s The Wisdom of Crowds (2004). But in contexts of high emotion, we are likely to get instead the “madness of crowds” (as in Charles Mackay’s ground-breaking Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841)) — the sharing-out of stupid and dangerous ideas.

The third panel of #1 combines all of these themes in the image of a dumbnado, a swirling tempest of communal anti-intellectual stupidity. An image — and name —   fostered by the Sharknado films.

A cloud of sharks. From Wikipedia:

Sharknado is a series of American disaster horror comedy science-fiction films released by Syfy starting in 2013. The sixth film concluded the series in 2018. It has since been expanded into video games and comics, including a spin-off film, Sharknado: Heart of Sharkness, that was released in 2015.

The series stars Ian Ziering and Tara Reid as Fin Shepard and April Wexler, respectively; a husband and wife who continue to encounter “sharknadoes”, tornadoes filled with sharks, wherever they go.

Among the items on my Page on shark postings is this 7/26/15 one “Shirtless shark-fighting teens”: what unites SoCal teens, shirtless dancers, and fighters of flying sharks? Ian Ziering, that’s what. Seen below wielding his chainsaw (in Sharknado 2) against an airborne sharp-toothed menace:


Ziering has had a substantial career in slickly produced, rather tacky entertainments. Highlights: Beverly Hills, 90210Dancing with the Stars; a stint showing off his hunkiness as a Chippendales dancer; the Sharknado films; and now regular appearances on Swamp Thing and BH90210.

On August 18th, Max Vasilatos posted a little appreciation of the Sharnadoes on Facebook:

Yes, I do watch television. Yes, it’s easier sometimes when the thing on the tube doesn’t require much brain. Yes, I have “The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time” on. G’ahead, say something.

[my response:] I would be the last to carp or cavil, having caught up on Sharknado films 3 – 5 earlier today; now going to bed rather than experience 6. But it will always be there, lying in wait. An odd genre: slickly done, very competently made awful films, consequently quite enjoyable.

You get Ziering and his chainsaw, female characters cutting as close to the decorousness line as possible, plenty of appearances by (surprise!) David Hasselhoff, astonishingly preposterous plots, terrible puns and inside jokes, and professional-grade acting by everybody involved, but utterly without any human depth to their characters — which makes it possible for the producers to bloodily kill off sympathetic major characters without compunction. Nobody is safe.

And then the –nado words, for the stuff that gets swept up into those storm clouds: bouldernado, cownado, that sort of thing. Let’s savor them for a while now.

Life in Nadoland. I’ll start with the story “The plot of “Sharknado” is a little implausible, but the popularity of “nado” is a fact” by Rebecca Kruth & Anne Curzan on 2/10/19 on the Michigan Radio site (and, presumably, some other public radio sites):

If you haven’t had the good fortune of watching any of the six “Sharknado” movies, all you need to know is that in the first movie, a freak cyclone in the Pacific Ocean causes waterspouts that scoop up sharks and wreak havoc on Los Angeles. A man named Fin (yes, really) sets out to rescue his estranged wife April and encounters all manner of shark-related obstacles.

From there, the series gets a little-far fetched.

The first “Sharknado” movie got some buzz when it came out in 2013. In fact, the American Dialect Society took notice, and voted “sharknado” 2013’s most unnecessary word of the year.

In an article for Vice, journalist Mark Peters wrote, “It’s really a shame that [sharknado] did not get nominated for most productive.” Peters had been searching for other “nado” creations and found things like “boatnado,” “poodlenado,” “beardnado,” and “sushinado.”[I haven’t been able to find this VICE piece by Peters, but below I’ll cite a different article of his.]

From a linguistics perspective, we wanted to know, exactly what is “nado”? People talk about blends when they write about “nado,” but they will sometimes talk about it as a suffix.

“I’m a little uncomfortable calling [nado] a suffix. I would call it a combining form,” says English professor Anne Curzan. A combining form is when we’ve taken a word – it could be a blend – and we’ve analyzed it into different parts. We then clip off a part and attach it to other things.

One of the most common examples is “holic.” The word “alcoholic” comes from “alcohol” plus “ic.” However, we reinterpreted it, chopped off the “holic” part, and then started attaching it to other things. That’s where words like “shopaholic” and “workaholic” came from.

There’s some chance that “nado” is also a combining form, since it got clipped off from “tornado” and is now being attached to other things like [a] baconado Bloody Mary.

Some terminological matters. First, the term blend above refers to intentional word combinations of the sort I prefer to refer to as portmanteaussharknado is a portmanteau of shark and tornado, conveying something close to the compound shark tornado, or the nominal tornado of sharks, but even more compressed. (I prefer to reserve the term (word) blend for inadvertent errors in which words are combined.)

Then, there’s combining form. The prevailing usage of this term is for elements like bio– and –cide — historically from Greek or Latin stems; in English, they are semantically and accentually just compound elements, but they are bound, like affixes. Michael Quinion’s affixes site treats them as a subtype of (derivational) affix.

Curzan’s usage above extends the term to cover material that has been chopped out of existing words to make a new word-forming element: –holic (from alcoholic) conveying addiction, –tastic (from fantastic) conveying excellence or remarkableness, and so on. And she extends the term as well to such elements — like the –nado of cownado — retrieved from portmanteaus.

If we knew nothing of the history of these elements, we’d just classify them as (accent-bearing) derivational affixes. But, as I suggested in a 1/23/10 posting “Libfixes”, it might be useful to have a term that recognizes their history:

[on] the “liberation” of parts of words [like –tard, –flation, and –naut], to yield word-forming elements that are semantically like the elements of compounds but are affix-like in that they are typically bound.

… Quinion’s “combining forms” include both liberated elements and elements from complex learnèd forms, as in thermometer. It would be nice to have a term for the liberated elements that is both more memorable than “combining forms” and also signals the origin of these elements in the reanalysis of existing words (whether the source words are ordinary words, as with –tacular, or portmanteaus, as with –dar [based on gaydar, a portmanteau of gay and radar]. I suggest libfix

Now from Nancy Friedman’s Fritinancy blog on 11/19/18 in “Word of the week: Firenado” (following the horrific Paradise fire in California):

I couldn’t find a coinage date for firenado, but it follows a pattern established by snownado, “an extremely rare instance of a waterspout forming under the base of a snow squall” that’s more accurately called a snowspout. In 2014, Mark Peters wrote [on the blog] about snownado and other snow-compounds; he linked snownado to the unexpectedly popular 2013 movie Sharknado. (The movie also spawned such novel compounds as ratnado, boatnado, and polarnado.)

From Mark’s piece, “Snownados in Hothlanta: The World of Weather Blends” on 2/11/14:

In fact, –nado is right up there with -shaming, -splaining, and –elfie when it comes to the giddy production of new words. These words fit into a few categories.

Some are direct plays on Sharknado, a “so bad it’s good” disaster movie featuring, you guessed it, a tornado of sharks. That cinema classic was definitely in the minds of writers who coined words such as Boat-nado, Ratnado, and the corny Pi-rat-nado in relation to the discovery of a “ghost ship filled with cannibal rats.” The movie also seems like an influence on an artwork that could only have been called a Guitar-nado. Elsewhere, someone combined the polar vortex and sharknado into an adorable polar nado, as in tornado of polar bears. Considering the disappearance of polar bears’ habitat, I’m afraid that image may soon be as real as a recent catnado.

Some folks use the suffix for metaphorical storms, such as the behavior of a toddler: “A toddler-nado hit my parents living room earlier today. Toys were thrown fun was had and no one was injured.” After looking at the picture with that tweet, I take back the word metaphorical. Perhaps due to fatigue with gate, some have called New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s traffic scandal bridge-nado. I’m no Al Roker, but I’ve also spotted poodlenado, beardnado, thongnado, and sushinado. To paraphrase a classic Batman story, “Sushinado would be a good death.”

Of course, some uses are actually weather-related, like snownado, which is a word for a winter waterspout.

And that’s the news from Nadoland.


2 Responses to “The news from Nadoland”

  1. Donnypool Says:

    I couldn’t help but be reminded of this 2009 web cartoon (which is transcribed and exhaustively explained here), in which the lead character imagines putting together a dictionary for his own idiolect. in it, he has a page of “all the great natural disaster suffixes,” which he illustrates with the example sentence: “This suckquake of a movie was a total wastenado of my seven bucksonsoon.” There’s a whole world beyond Nadoland.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      “There’s a whole world beyond Nadoland.” Whoever suggested there wasn’t? I posted about some disaster libfixes back in 2012 and 2013, and Mark Peters has posted much more assiduously about them. Always nice to hear about more writing about them, of course.

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