The pengring

In the mail yesterday (in transit for a month from Italy), this neon purple penguin key ring — a pengring, portmanteau of penguin + ring — a little gift of friendship in difficult times, from Anna Thornton — morphologist Anna M. Thornton, Professor of Linguistics at Università Degli Studi Dell’Aquila,  the University of L’Aquila, Italy:

(#1) A hollow key ring, with the hollow good for holding the pendant penguin and so finding and wielding the keys on the ring, though this particular design is usually intended to make the pendant usable as a bottle opener; I don’t, however, think I’d want to risk scratching that handsome purple surface on a bottle cap (but then twist caps have widely replaced pry-off caps, so we all have less call for bottle openers)

And from this, excursions in many directions.

I note at the outset that the penguin is one of my totem animals; my house is a riot of penguiniana (and mammuthiana as well). Anna’s choice of penguin as gift creature was no accident.

The N + N compounds. From NOAD:

noun key ring [punctuated with the elements separated]: a metal ring, typically with a tab or decorative object attached, on to which keys may be threaded in order to keep them together.

noun keychain [punctuated with the elements solid]: mainly North American a key ring: the bottle opener is small enough to fit on a keychain.

(I use both compounds, choosing one or the other for no reason that I can discern.)

The other available punctuation  is hyphenation (key-ring, key-chain), which seems to be rare. Instances of keyring and key chain, however, are easily found, and I discover that my own choices go both ways, even in writing up this posting. (And, for these compounds, the difference seems to be a matter of no consequence.)

Other penguin pedants. Tons of them. People find penguins not only intriguing — flightless birds surviving in hostile climates and terrain — but, well, cute. So we get things like this:

(#2) Penguin keyring — hard enamel pendant with metal detail — from Chameleon and Co.

And this Swatom item, marketed on as a “penguin keychain and bottle opener”:

(#3) In black anodized aluminum

Little gifts from Anna. See my 4/25/20 posting “The rainbow penguin of regard”, about a hand-drawn rainbow penguin she sent me as a gift. And in e-mail, we exchanged some recollections of the 1991 Linguistic Institute at UC Santa Cruz, where she sat in on a huge lecture course I gave.

Alas, all material from that summer seems have vanished in my various moves, computer re-toolings, and merciless contractions of files and library to fit a small condo. Then, having apparently lost the audience for my work, I went through a series of shifts to new topics.

Meanwhile, I fell apart physically. Took my last plane trip in 2006, taught my last Stanford course in 2010. Retreated physically into a small world around my house and a few friends. Focused all my work on posting for this blog, three or more essays a day for a while, then down to aiming for just one (to show I’m: Not Dead Yet!), in a form of my own devising; as I said in “The rainbow penguin of regard”,

I write extremely quirky, relentlessly analytic, highly personal, and often outrageously sexually open material for a tiny coterie of readers.

One of whom is Anna, who every so often thanks me for it.

  Poetry Hour: neon purple penguin key ring! My exclamation of thanks to Anna yesterday.

Which, I realized with a jolt of pleasure, was a line of trochaic tetrameter, with a nice bit of alliteration in the middle: purple penguin, merely descriptive of #1. The line, divided into its four feet:

néon | púrple | pénguin | kéy ring

I added that the line was reminiscent, to me, of

flýing | púrple | péople | éater

(though that was probably before her time).

Anna admitted that she had no idea of what flying purple people eater means. (Well, if I calculate the years correctly, the song was a thing before she was born.) Ah, the archives to the rescue!

From my 8/11/18 posting “P-alliterative and tetrametric lines”:

purple rainbow puppy pen reminded me of a purple novelty song from my high-school years, about a one-eyed, one-horned, flying, purple people eater. Sheb Wooley’s 1958 song “The Purple People Eater” tells how the strange creature descends to Earth because it wants to be in a rocknroll band.

(The posting also has a Zippy strip, the Magic Flute, Madonna, Prince, and Pikotaro.)

Not done yet! In all that searching, I stumbled into the world of purple penguins, which turns out to be pretty well populated, I’m not sure why. But in the midst of all that flightless purple cuteness, there’s some that turns on the associations of penguins with cold and snow. I give you: Purple Penguin frozen yogurt (in North Carolina); and Purple Penguin snowcones (in Nevada):

— Purple Penguin Frozen Yogurt shops, a premium frozen yogurt chain in various locations throughout NC, with the logo:


— Purple Penguin snowcone stands and shops in Henderson NV (the original) and Las Vegas, with the logo:


Meanwhile, my neon purple penguin keychain is hanging from a magnetic peg on the side of my refrigerator, where it holds an extra housekey for visitors.

4 Responses to “The pengring”

  1. Ellen Kaisse Says:

    This isn’t the first time that you have mentioned on this blog the fact of people somehow losing interest in your work. Since I had always found your work brilliant, riveting, and right up my alley, almost from the first thing you published, hearing from your perspective that you inexplicably lost your audience is intriguing. From my own perspective, I remember at some point sitting down eagerly, as always, to hear a talk of yours at a conference, and quite suddenly not getting it. I assumed and continue to assume that this was largely my failing, not yours, but pretty much from that first instance onward, I didn’t grasp where you were going with your research, and I eventually stopped following it closely. It sounds like you don’t feel that you changed course, but it seemed that way from the outside.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      There’s a lot here. Well I certainly changed course over a long career; everybody does. In particular, I hardened my metatheoretical stance in morphology and syntax in the direction of my 1992 LSA presidential address, taking me further and further away from received wisdom (and losing me readers along the way). If you look the list of my publications available on this blog, you’ll see that publications in theoretical linguistics (broadly understood) came to a halt in 2002, after a series of grinding difficulties getting stuff published — problems that began at least with my 1989 *quicklier paper (published in the Yearbook of Morphology despite a scathing denunciation by one of the referees), and continued with 1995’s Exceptional Degree Marking (never conventionally published, cause who would take it?), the 1999 P&Z gerund participles paper (published in a Festschrift after it was rejected by a leading journal), and 2002’s WH+that paper (in a Stanford volume of semantics/syntax papers).

      After that I tried submitting abstracts to conferences, in general and theoretical linguistics and in sociolinguistics, but they were all rejected, so I shifted my writing into areas where I had at least some chance of an audience (though not publication): syntax / grammar / usage, cartoons and comics, the construction of gender and sexuality, and cultural criticism and light essays.

      I’ve been told that all this happened because my work deteriorated markedly in quality. That may be so, in which case I’ve done my best to achieve something with what remains of my mediocre abilities; this stuff is my life’s work, and I can’t not do it. But, but, …

      Story. My proposal for a course at the 2007 Linguistic Institute (at Stanford) was rejected on its merits, but was added at the last minute (after I appealed in wounded anger) because I was a local faculty member. (This is the position of the applicant for college admissions who would not be admissible on the merits but is accepted as a legacy.) The course was, by all accounts, a tremendous success and I’m proud of what I did. (I’ll post the course description and my course-end summary of its content; all of the material for the course is in a Page on this blog.)

      One of the contemptuous reviewers back in 1989-2002 summarized the attitudes of a great many: what I was doing was not any kind of theoretical linguistics at all, but was composed of two elements: philosophy (that’s my conceptual analysis, my metatheoretical stance, and I did in fact develop that stance through the influence of philosophers — especially my teachers Paul Benacerraf and Hilary Putnam) and a kind of applied linguistics, mere language description (that’s my goal of rich descriptions, covering all the details and incorporating variation — with the intention to show how they are relevant to issues of linguistic theory). (“Mere language description” was in fact Paul Postal’s attitude towards my 1970 “Auxiliary Reduction in English” — the first of my big hits.)

      I gave up contending in phonology even before I gave up in morphology and syntax. I did publish what I still think are two important treatments of rule interactions in phonology, in papers in 1985 and 1987 in the extraordinarily obscure journal Innovations in Linguistics Education, the only place that I could imagine would take them. Very few people have ever read them.

      Alas, there’s more, much more.

  2. Robert Coren Says:

    And of course (to address another of your frequently-written-about interests), “neon purple penguin key ring” is the sort of phrase one might expect Zippy to repeat as a mantra.

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