The risonym

E-mail today from Gadi Niram:

I seem to recall you coining the term “risonym”. What I can’t remember was whether a risonym made a person laugh because of its meaning or because of the speaker’s perception of the sound as funny. Can you refresh my memory?

I had no recollection of such a coining (though Gadi eventually resurrected a single use by me on Usenet 20 years ago — see below), but I tried to respond to the idea of words that are funny because of their sound.

Snickerfacience. My first response:

Were you maybe thinking of my silly coinage “snickerfacient” ‘eliciting snickers’? used in several postings

The history:

on 5/3/18 in “He said “prickles””: on snickerfacience: “Generating snickers, especially from middle-school boys” (non-sexual uses of ass, booty, cock, dick, snatch, pussy, prick)

on 4/8/19 in “Annals of cultural cluelessness”, on the children’s book title: Fruits Come in Colors Like the Rainbow:


on 5/1/19 in “Here we come a-frankerin'”, with a joke ad for Pocket Weenies:


on 5/24/18 in “Crude japery”, a joke ad: “Dickman’s Boned Rolled Pig: Institutional Meat Food”, from Dickman Rendering & Creaming Inc.:


Silly names. My next idea for Gadi:

I’ve talked about “silly names” a number of times

Again, the history:

on 2/20/10, in “Zippylicious geographical names”, on silly placenames in Montana: Grundy Gulch, Zortman

on 3/10/10 in “Welcome to Dingburg”, on silly placenames in Zippy cartoons: Dingburg, Grundy Gulch

on 2/17/16 in “A passion for pickles”:

my main theme is that pickles and the word pickle  tend to be intrinsically funny, inherently risible

on 12/8/14 in “The Foster Farms Bowl”:

The “Foster Farms Bowl” struck me as a very silly name, mostly because of the company’s funny ad campaigns: chicken puppets and, last year, chickens singing from musicals. (The alliteration helps, especially since it involves /f/. Compare Firesign Theatre’s “Freezing Mr. Foster” from Dear Friends.)

on 7/25/16 in “Our playful entomologists”:

An entertaining tour of playful, even silly, names that have been adopted. As far as I can tell, these are all entirely accurate, even the insects Agra vation, Lalsapa lusa, Pison eu, and Vera peculya.

on 10/16/16 in “Zwicky le Chat”: a “cute” and somewhat silly name for the mascot of the Parisian store Fleux’

on 10/17/16 in “More Zwicky postings”, on Cherky, a “shelf-stable cheese and meat snack”:

I can’t decide whether Cherky is a silly name — do the Herky Cherky! —  a somewhat repellent one — he’s a stupid, Cherky asshole — or a sexy-dirty one — he likes to Cherk off with the sticks — or some combination of these.

on 11/16/16 in “Placenames of the British Isles”, on an xkcd with silly place names (real and imagined) for places in the British Isles

on 6/10/20 in “South Cackalacky”, on Cackalacky for Carolina

Then from the archives. Gadi produced a 8/12/00 posting — yes, 20 years ago — to the Usenet newsgroup soc.motss, by reader DB, who asked:

Hey Arnold, is there a term for words that evoke amusement due to the way they sound?

To which I replied:

Not that I know of, but there’s a lot of arcana I’m not aware of. You could invent one (like RISONYM); who would know?

DB produced examples:

snout boobie spackle spigot weener stoop daLOOTH [Duluth] giggle!

And I noted:

Something that *is* known is that which words sound beautiful or ugly or ridiculous is highly language- and culture-specific.

Reader RC in Sweden then chimed in:

I was theorising to [a friend] on the phone last night that the reason the British (in general) know what a toucan is and the Swedes (in general) don’t is because TOUCAN is a risonym in English but TUCAN isn’t in Swedish.

Gadi summarized these exchanges as follows:

So it looks like you tossed off the word “risonym” once as a possible term for a funny-sounding word, then [RC] used it once a few days later, and I somehow committed it to memory.

I find this sequence of events entertaining.

And then added this wonderful footnote (I remind you that Gadi is, like me, a gay man):

I forgot to tell you what had me thinking of risonyms. Not infrequently, one encounters dating/hookup profiles of British men who are into soccer gear, or “footy kit”. It reminds me of the phrase “puddy tat” and I laugh every single time I read it.

(quoted with Gadi’s permission)

One Response to “The risonym”

  1. Friday words #242 – mike's words Says:

    […] Zwicky—a prolific coiner of language words, including libfix, recency illusion, and zombie rule—proposed the term risonym. This is a great word. We see the -nym part (“name”) in words like […]

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