et puis, le mot de l'année…

Over at Language Log Mark Liberman writes that blog has been named the word of the year for 2004 by Merriam-Webster. This I find interesting for several reasons: first, the fact that it’s a blend (of web + log) makes me wonder how pervasive this word-formation process has become, and second, it’s an odd blend.

I understand blend to mean a coinage composed of pieces of two or more words, where at least one of the pieces is only a partial match to its source, and is not clearly a bound morpheme by itself. Textbook examples include brunch and spam. Even an attempt at a narrow definition like this leads to some borderline cases, but this definition is at least meant to exclude compounds.

A quick look over the American Dialect Society website leads you to a running tally of their Words of the Year, an annual exercise of fun carried out since 1990. (Turns out blog was an entrant in 2002). Of the winning words, only 1 of the 14 could count as a blend: last year’s metrosexual, which might seem like it’s not a blend because its two parts are meaningful. I count it as a blend since its meaning is not really compositional; instead it combines clippings from metropolitan and heterosexual (I think).

But the site also has honourable mentions and other entrants, words that end up with titles like “Most unnecessary” and “Most likely to succeed”. I’ve counted 43 blends on this list, including such wonders as stalkerazzi, apatheist, and neuticles. Although the lists have generally become more prolific in recent years, it still seems like blends have been showing up with increasing frequency: 26 blends are post-millennium; that’s more since 2000 than in the previous decade.

As for the phonology of it, an overwhelming majority of blends follow a generalization that they incorporate the beginning of one word and the end of the next. The extent of incorporation from each edge is up for grabs: partial on both sides, like brunch and Ebonics, fully only on the left side, as in stalkerazzi and spamouflage, or fully only on the right side, as in blobject and Malaprophesizing. But in almost every case, in phonological terms, blends are well-anchored on both edges.

I found one infixed blend on the ADS site: recockulous, for “ridiculous”, which nets 3290 ghits, more than some other blends. It’s still kind of well-anchored; the edges of the infix match the edges of the unblended component. But infixed blends seem really rare; that’s probably why they call it Phonoloblog and not Phonoblogy.

The badly anchored blend — one in which the first component does not match the beginning of the contributing word –seems just as rare. The only example I know of is blog.

Oh, I almost forgot why the title’s in French — the French word for blog is joueb, apparently a blend of journal and le web.

6 thoughts on “et puis, le mot de l'année…

  1. Lisa Davidson

    I guess we still have yet to see this at the ADS, but my current favorite new lexical item is “craptacular” (as popularized by Atrios, at least for me, but apparently originating with the Simpsons. Definitions here. Variations include “hacktacular”, as applied to various government officials.) I guess this word follows your generalization of incorporating the edges of 2 words, with the left edge being the whole word. Yes, a well-formed word all around.

  2. Bob Kennedy

    Yeah, craptacular‘s a good one. Seems like -tacular and -rific make ideal blend components; maybe they have just enough of the original not to be masked. Van Morrison uses fantabulous in “Moondance”; some older ones that also fit the mold include ginormous and humongous.

  3. chris waigl

    While “joueb” seems to predate (very slighly) the French online blogging site, it has come to refer to blogs created on this site. When I noted the creation of phonoloblog on the French side of my site as a “nouveau joueb”, I was called on that “error” by other French bloggers. Mostly, “blog” or “blogue” is used (the latter puts in the “ue” that is needed for the verb “bloguer” anyway, like in “dialogue”, “catalogue” etc.), or “carnet/journal web”.

    Blends are, in French, associated with youth speak and administration-approved anglicism-avoiding neologisms (“courriel”). Both categories are regarded with distaste by many, in particular by language purists.

    The canonical reference for French blogging terminology is on Laurent Gloaguen’s site

  4. Francisco Torreira

    Just a little comment: in French we say ‘Le mot de l’annĂ©e’, with the article just like in English. For those who are interested, it is prononuced [] after resyllabification.

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