The risonymic riff

From my mountainous posting queue, this gem of a risonymic riff:

(#1) Bodysnatch Cummerbund, Buffalo Custardbath, Bumblesnuff Crimpysnatch, Mr. Cabbagewank — four mockings, ridiculous manglings, of the already remarkable name Benedict Cumberbatch; otherwise, the first two paragraphs are an actual news item, accurate in its details, about the 2014 engagement of actor Benedict Cumberbatch to theatre director Sophie Hunter

Background: the real-life events. From the Wikipedia entry on Benedict Cumberbatch:

(#2) Cumberbatch and Hunter

Cumberbatch is married to English theatre and opera director Sophie Hunter. Their engagement was announced in the “Forthcoming Marriages” section of The Times on 5 November 2014, after a seventeen-year friendship. On 14 February 2015, the couple married at the 12th-century Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Mottistone on the Isle of Wight followed by a reception at Mottistone Manor. They have three sons.

Background: the source of #1. Hat tip to Susan Fischer, who brought #1 to my attention on Facebook back in December. The site — “best memes, gifs and funny pictures online!” — is not an actual source, merely an aggregator of memes; the original risonymic riff (which is tightly constructed, as I’ll show in a moment) is clearly the work of a single creator back in 2014-15, someone who deserves credit for their ingenuity, but will probably never be identified. Which is a pity: Benedict Cumberbatch’s remarkable name has been subject to massive name mockery over the years; yet #1 is not just more of that, but a distillation of such mockery into a gem of comic writing.

Background: remarkable names and name mockery. From my 7/15/13 posting “Remarkable names” (remarkable, usually because of some combination of semantics and phonology):

Authors of fiction choose their characters’ names, often intentionally choosing remarkable ones. Charles Dickens, famously so: Harold Skimpole, Mr. Sloppy, Mr. Wopsle, Polly Toodle, the Squeers family (including Wackford Squeers), and all the rest. And Joseph Heller in Catch-22: Milo Minderbinder, Lieutenant Scheisskopf, Captain Aardvark, General Dreedle, Captain Flume, Corporal Popinjay, and of course Major Major Major Major.

And then on word, and more specifically name, mockery from my 10/16/20 posting “The risonym”:

a word that evokes amusement because of the way it sounds, a funny- or silly-sounding word (highly language- and culture-specific)

In real life: from my 1/2/12 posting “The other Winns”:

Anne [Brent] Winn … was stylish, socially prominent, charming but with a sharp edge, and a horsewoman all her life; she was still riding to the hounds when she was in her 70s.

… As for the sharp edge: Anne disliked Keene’s second wife [Keene Daingerfield was my first father-in-law], Velma (yes, I have a stepmother-in-law), for a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with her judgment that Velma was unsuitable for him (tacky, racist, and not very smart). One manifestation of Anne’s antipathy to Velma was that she almost never called her by her right name: Zelda, Zelma, Wilma, Vilda, whatever. (Just like Endora in the tv show Bewitched, who almost never got her son-in-law Darrin’s name right: Durwood, Darwin, Dum-Dum, etc.)

The remarkable name Benedict Cumberbatch. There’s a long history of playing with the actor’s name. Discussed by Ben Zimmer on Language Log back in 2012:

BZ on 5/8/12: “Bandersnatch Cummerbund: not a typo, not a cupertino”

And by Gretchen McCullough on her site The Toast in 2013:

GMcC on 12/2/13: “A Linguist Explains the Rules of Summoning Benedict Cumberbatch”

McCullough recognizes what I label below as Dactylic and B.C. as major factors in attested risonyms, and teases out three possible additional facilitating factors.

Now to #1: Benedict is rare (as a FN) and pompous (similar to: Bigelow); Cumberbatch is quite rare (as a LN) and risible. Neither is an existing lexical item or possible compound, but both FN and LN can be mocked by risible existing words (FN Buffalo, LN Cummerbund) or ridiculous invented compounds similar to the models phonologically and orthographically: FNs Bodysnatch, Bumblesnuff; LNs CustardbathCrimpysnitchCabbagewank.

There are then three constraints on all these names, real and invented:

— remarkability (noted above): like Benedict and Cumberbatch, all the names, FN and LN, are remarkable

— dactylic: like Benedict and Cumberbatch, all the names, FN and LN, are dactyls, prosodically S W W

— B.C.: as in Benedict Cumberbatch, the initial letters of the FN + LN pairs are B.C., with these letters pronounced with a /b/ and a /k/ (not /s/ or /č/), respectively

Here are some potential mockeries of Benedict Cumberbatch that fail to satisfy one or more of the constraints (some of them are pretty entertaining, and would serve as excellent mockeries of Benedict Cumberbatch, but they wouldn’t fit into #1, which is a distillation of the factors favoring risibility):

— Baboon Catastrophe (neither part is dactylic — W S Baboon, W S W W Catastrophe — but otherwise it’s fine)

— Pepsodent Twinkletoes (not B.C., but dactylic — but a bit low on remarkability)

Flabbergast Flippermaus (not B.C., but dactylic — and deeply remarkable, so a fine risonym)

— Burlington Cinnamon (pretty close, but not B.C., since the C represents /s/ rather than /k/)

— Benjamin Christopher (dactylic and B.C., but extremely low in remarkability, so not recognizable as a mockery of Benedict Cumberbatch at all)

— Bicycle Cranium (better, but still relatively low in remarkability)

Against these, I can offer Bandicoot Cuspidor (good on all counts, though, since it uses existing words, it’s lacking in the flagrant inventiveness of the names in #1; Bumblesnuff and Crimpysnatch are hard to beat).

Bonus from Susan Fischer on Facebook.

I once met a guy on the train from EWR [Newark Liberty Airport] to Penn Station who had attended the wedding; his niece was the bride. I keep thinking Jabberwock Bandersnatch.

— AZ > SF: Jabberwock Bandersnatch is several-ways beautiful.

It’s not B.C., but Bandersnatch is internally very close phonologically to Cumberbatch.

1st two syllables (CUMBER vs. BANDER):  stop + lax V +  nasal-voiced stop cluster + ǝr (half-rhyme)

3rd syllable (BATCH vs. SNATCH): onset + æč  (rhyme)

Plus: the syllable-initial /b/ of CUMBERBATCH is echoed in the syllable-initial /b/ of BANDERSNATCH.

And then there’s the allusion to Lewis Carroll:

Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!
— Lewis Carroll, Jabberwocky


One Response to “The risonymic riff”

  1. Mark Mandel Says:


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