The Zomb

At a Halloween party Friday night, a friend of mine was dressed in jeans, white t-shirt, and black leather jacket. He would occasionally pull out a comb and somewhat dramatically comb his hair, then give two thumbs up and say “eeeeeeeeeyyyyy” — really slowly. His face was painted to look ashen, with dark circles around his eyes. He was Arthur Zombarelli, or the zombified version of Arthur Fonzarelli of Happy Days fame, better known as Fonzie or The Fonz.

So, by analogy with Fonzarelli → Fonzie → The Fonz, my friend explained that he was Zombarelli → Zombie → The Zomb — the last of these, of course, pronounced [za:m], though when I asked my friend or anyone else at the party to repeat that, they insisted it was [za:mb], with the final oral stop. When I pointed out how odd that was — going so far as to trot out the tired old bomb ~ bombard pseudo-paradigm — everyone would insist that the point is that it’s [fa:nz], not [fa:n], so it’s [za:mb], not [za:m]. Can’t argue with that (ana)logic.

4 thoughts on “The Zomb

  1. Travis Bradley

    So your friend originally pronounced Zomb without the final stop, and only when prompted to repeat it did he (and everybody else) insist upon the final stop? If there really is a contrast between [za:m]/[za:mb] and [fa:nz]/[fa:n], then maybe it has to do with perceptibility: internal cues of the fricative save it from deletion, whereas the lack of CV transitional cues (and internal cues) make the final stop harder to hear. I bet that when prompted to repeat Zomb, they released the final stop, no? (Incidentally, when joking around with a friend, I used to pronounce dumb as [dʌmbʱ] for comedic effect.)

  2. Eric Bakovic

    Yes, the distinction was between [za:m] (unreleased, completely nasal) and [za:mb] (oral release). At least, I think I heard [za:m] originally, but I could of course be mistaken: it was a relatively noisy situation, and I’m sure I was expecting [za:m] given that there are no words with final [mb] in English.

    The reason I got interested (and asked my friend to repeat it) is because I thought that I finally had something other than the old bomb [ba:m] ~ bombard example — and something novel and fun-in-a-geeky-way besides — to use as evidence for the relevant deletion process. But given that I don’t have recorded evidence, and insistence from my “consultants” that they think it’s [za:mb], I’m discouraged …

  3. Bruce Hayes

    I can add to Eric’s observation that the rendition of the word iamb with final [mb] seems to be a popular non-normative pronunciation. I think this is due to to some combination of orthographic influence and the fact that iamb is rare in comparison with iambic, so that iambic may serve in some sense as the morphological base of iamb (see work of Jen Hay).

    There’s also an issue here concerning how people project their intuitions about phonotactics into the magic region of zero-frequency forms. Note that final [mb] occupies the empty field of a so-called “L-shaped region”, thus:

    nt nʧ ŋk mp

    nd nʤ — —

    I believe that such L-shaped regions are ripe territory for generalization, filling in the gap in the L. The reason, perhaps, is that the simplest characterization that avoids logical disjunction (“final N + stop ok”) projects the missing forms. To characterize only the attested forms of the L, one has to use disjunction (“in final N + stop, the stop must be either voiceless or coronal”).

    I believe that the L-shaped region phenomenon was first pointed out by Edward Sapir, who (somewhere) noticed the L-shaped region for word-initial fricatives in English:

    f θ s ʃ

    v ð z —

    The existence of this region tends to make English speakers comfortable with borrowings like soup du jour, Zhivago, Zhirinovsky.

    –Bruce Hayes

  4. Anonymous

    Whether it’s [za:mb] or [za:m] for the shortened version, the guy had a great costume idea with Arthur Zombarelli.

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