Zippo, the comic strip

The 3/14 Zippy strip shows Claude and Griffy (and eventually Zippy too) caught up in what seems to be affixoid attraction (similar to word attraction), an irrational appreciation of or enthusiasm for a particular word-part — in this case, the word-final element –o (whatever its source might be):

(#1) All of the panels except the fourth are framed as two-person exchanges, in which the second is a response to the first: offering a competing alternative (panel 1), trading insults (panels 2 and 3), or expressing appreciation (panel 5)

One of the words is a clipping within English (disco < discotheque), some are extensions with -o in English (cheapo < cheap, wino < wine, perfecto < perfect (assuming this is not a reference to a type of cigar; it could, however, be Spanish perfecto ‘perfect’)), and the rest are words that in modern English just happen to end in -o, though their history in another language might involve clipping (metro ‘subway’, a clipping in French) or the -o might represent an inflectional affix in another language (castrato ‘eunuch’ (above) or specifically ‘a male singer castrated in boyhood’; and maestro ‘a distinguished musician, esp. a conductor’ or (more generally) ‘a great or distinguished figure in some field’ (above) in Italian, both with masc. sg. -o).

Note that common nouns in –o can be the result of either clipping (a type of abbreviation) or extension. Further discussion in Michael Quinion’s page on -o on his Affixes site (with material in square brackets from me):

o: Marking informally shortened or slang nouns.

Though a wide variety of nouns in English end in ‑o, this suffix occurs only in words that have been formed from other native words in one of two specific ways. One method is to informally abbreviate a longer term, of which a few examples out of many are ammocondohippolimo, and photo. Others are based on an adjective or noun, to which the suffix is added to create a colloquial or slangy term, which is often — but by no means always — derogatory: [N] beano (from beanfest), [N] boyo [from boy], [Adj] cheapo [from cheap], [N] kiddo [from kid], [N] pervo ([from perve] from pervert), [N] pinko [from pink ‘a Communist’],[Adj] righto [from right ‘politically right’], [Adj] sicko [from sick ‘perverted’], [Adj] weirdo [from weird], N wino [‘someone who drinks excessive amounts of alcohol’, from wine].

Many of these items need to be set in their sociocultural context; this is certainly the case for the two address terms, boyo (which NOAD takes to be informal Welsh and Irish English) and kiddo (which it marks as friendly but somewhat condescending).

And then there’s beanfest, which I barely recalled as British English, though I wasn’t sure just what sorts of occasions counted as beanfests (which, it turns out, are more commonly known as beanfeasts); the item beano — as opposed to Beano, see below — was completely new to me. But first, some remarks on a few types of proper names with an -o that looks affix-like in English.

— male personal nicknames in -o. The default suffix for male personal names is /i/, most commonly spelled –y, but sometimes -ie, appended to a short version of the name: Davey, Sammy, Tommy, Charley, Johnny; Davie, Charlie, Johnnie.

But a few male personal names have -o instead (Deano) or in addition (Johnno, Timmo).

Then there are the Marx Brothers, who early on took stage names in -o (apparently just because they liked the sound) — Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Gummo, Zeppo –but these aren’t nicknames based on an existing personal name.

— commercial / trade / brand names in -o. A very rich vein of proper names in -o, some long established, some added recently. Several of the early names suggest that -o connoting a commercial name has a long history: Oxo / OXO stock cubes, originally beef (1899), possibly containing ox; Brillo scouring pads (1913), with the brill– supposed to convey ‘shiny, bright’. The -o of Crisco vegetable shortening (1911), on the other hand, is supposed to convey the oil of ‘crystallized cottonseed oil’.

Some recent brand names in -o are in fact transparent: Beano anti-gas dietary supplement (1990), for instance. But then there’s OXO, a line of easy-grip kitchen utensils (also 1990); the company founder chose the name OXO as an ambigram, with its three letters the same regardless of their orientation, horizontal or vertical. But of course it also has an -o that can be see as signaling a brand name.

Since this started with a Zippy strip, I wondered about the trade name Zippo. From Wikipedia:

A Zippo lighter is a reusable metal lighter produced by Zippo Manufacturing Company of Bradford, Pennsylvania, United States. Thousands of different styles and designs have been made in the eight decades since their introduction, including military versions for specific regiments. Zippo lighters have been sold around the world and have been described as “a legendary and distinct symbol of America”.

(#2) Replica of a 1935 brushed chrome Zippo (photo from the company)

… American inventor George G. Blaisdell founded Zippo Manufacturing Company in 1932 and produced the first Zippo lighter in early 1933, being inspired by an Austrian cigarette lighter of similar design made by IMCO. It got its name because Blaisdell liked the sound of the word “zipper”, and “zippo” sounded more modern.

Bonus: beanos and bean-feasts. First, from the OED, which fails to note that these items are specifically British English:

OED entry for noun beano, first published 1933, last revised Dec. 2020:

slang … Originally: = bean-feast n.   Later, in general use: a festive entertainment frequently ending in rowdyism. [cites from 1888 through 1967, every one of them from a British source]

OED2 on noun bean-feast [also beanfeast, bean feast] [AZ: I’ve heard and read the variant beanfest from British speakers, but it seems not to have found its way into dictionaries]

a. An annual dinner given by employers to their work-people. Also, (colloquial) any festive occasion [cites from 1805 through 1898, all from British sources] …

The OED2 gives as the only etymology bean + feast, with no account of how the compound came to be used for an annual dinner.

The Wikipedia entry for bean-feast has an account; it’s speculative (“probably derived from…”) but not implausible:

A bean-feast is an informal term for a celebratory meal or party, especially an annual summer dinner given by an employer to their employees, probably derived from a tradition in the Low Countries at Twelfth Night. By extension, colloquially, it describes any festive occasion with a meal and perhaps an outing. The word, and its shorter form “beano”, are fairly common in Britain, less known in the United States.

A goose, which is the raison d’être of the feast, has been dropped out of the name, though a goose was always the staple of the entertainment. A “bean-goose” is a migratory bird, arriving in UK in autumn and going northwards in April. It takes its name from the likeness of the upper part of the bill to a horse-bean.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the beanfeast often took the form of a trip to some beauty spot, where the meal was provided. (e.g. ..I want a feast, I want a bean feast. Cream buns and doughnuts and fruitcake with no nuts, so good you could go nuts. — Veruca Salt, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory)

It is derived from the Twelfth Night feast, at which a king cake or pie with a special object or “favour” buried in it was a great feature. This remains a common custom in much of Europe and former European colonies; in the US mainly in New Orleans. Elsewhere the favour took various forms, including metal tokens and small pottery figures. In the Low Countries a bean was usual. The bean king for the rest of the night was the person who had the slice of cake containing the bean. The king (or queen) was given a paper crown to wear, and appointed various court officials. When the king took a drink, all the party shouted “the king drinks”. The subject was often painted by Flemish Baroque and Dutch Golden Age painters, especially Jacob Jordaens and Jan Steen.

One Response to “Zippo, the comic strip”

  1. Ellen Kaisse Says:

    A Facebook Group I belong to has lots of parents and discussion of kids’ apparel and toys. ‘kiddo’ seems to have become the default way of referring to children, at least among these writers, where I would have used ‘kid’. It has taken on an apparently affectionate, certainly non-derogatory, cast I wasn’t familiar with before. I see ‘doggo’ used that way for dogs more often too. A good scholar (i.e. not me this afternoon!) would have searched to find the putative increase in this kind of usage. Maybe someone else will feel more energetic 🙂

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