Word-Building Strategies in Modern English: Contamination Decrypted

Scientific Essay, 2010

135 Pages

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Part I
Thematic plan of the course
Insights into contamination: a multi-layered classification approach
Contamination: a record of success
Linguistic Contamination: Word-building Peculiarities and Stylistic Functions

Part II
Theme 1
Typological classification of contamination in modern English
Theme 2
Intralinguistic and extralinguistic types of meaning of contamination in translation
Theme 3
Contamination and other types of word-building
Theme 4
Contamination as ‘part and parcel’ of advertising
Theme 5
Contaminated lexis in computer and Internet communication
Theme 6
Stylistic differentiation of contamination depending on the type of its meaning
Theme 7
Contaminated slips of the tongue as a result of specific interaction of thought and speech
Theme 8
A comparative analysis of contamination, occasional word, neologism. The hallmarks of contamination
A list of words with combining forms
Answers to the task on pages 71-73


Part I

Thematic plan of the course

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


1. Contamination: an apt linguistic term or a misnomer?

The course investigates the complex linguistic notion of contamination. The main aim of the paper is to demonstrate that the term “contamination” should not be regarded as a linguistic pariah, but as a traditional and an apt one that truly reflects the notion that is behind it. To reach this goal, the author sets out to fulfill the following tasks: (i) to disclose the conceptual meaning of the term, (ii) to show that contamination is a multi-faceted phenomenon present at every language level, (iii) to analyze the semantic content of the contiguous terms, such as “blend-word”, “portmanteau-word”, “telescope-word” and to prove that they can be synonymous with contamination only in one aspect of their meaning.

In modern English the word-building pattern of contamination seems to be on the rise, as a result there emerge contaminated words, also known in linguistics as “blend-words”, “telescope words” or “portmanteau words”: matchimony (match + matrimony) – wedding; mingy (mean + stingy) – very stingy; hopium (hope + opium) – unrealistic and persistent optimism; frizzle (fry + sizzle) – to fry something until it is crisp. These terms, however, are not fully synonymous with contamination, insofar as they only partially cover the phenomenon under study; the notion of contamination is broader, which is reflected in the inner form of the term: it derives from the Latin “contaminatio”, meaning “juxtaposing” or “mixing”. In the “Dictionary of Linguistic Terms” by O.S. Akhmanova contamination is defined as “an interaction of language units that are concurrent either associatively or syntagmatically, which ultimately leads to their semantic or formal alteration and to the formation of a third language or speech unit” [Akhmanova, 1966:206]. The author stresses that it is crucial to differentiate between word-forming, syntactic, phraseological and semantic contamination. We propose to regard syntactic and phraseological contamination under one section, since phraseology, broadly speaking, can be viewed as part of syntax. This approach does not overrule the possibility of regarding contamination as substitution, decomposition of set phrases, pun or allusion: one does not exclude the other, as contamination, on the one hand, being a popular word-building pattern and consequently often registered by dictionaries, and, on the other, being based on metaphor and presenting cases of violating word valency, occupies an intermediate position between an expressive means and a stylistic device and can alternately function as either. The bottom-line is that it is prone to forming the basis of such stylistic devises as allusion, decomposition of set-phrases and pun (play on words).

2. Treatment of contamination

A researcher may come across a negative if not openly hostile attitude towards the very term “contamination”: allegedly, it has a negative connotation. In Australian linguistics it is traditional to regard contamination as synonymous with “euphemistic taboo”. Not debating this latter interpretation, we set out to prove that, firstly, contamination has nothing negative in itself and, secondly, that the term aptly reflects the notion that is behind it. First of all, one should not overlook the fact that most words in a language are polysemantic and this is not a drawback, but a merit. No one would dare deny the fact that in medicine, chemistry, biology, ecology and some other fields of study, as well as in the mundane parlance, the word “contamination” is aptly used in another meaning, namely “contagion”, “dirt”, but the bottom-line is that communicants are fully aware of the implied meaning of the word, so that no misunderstanding ensues. Simultaneously, the concept of contamination is naturally different with various professionals: it is highly probable that, say, a physicist, ecologist and a person who does not have a degree in philology (and in many cases we must regrettably admit that even those who do) do not have the slightest idea what linguistic contamination stands for. It wouldn’t come amiss to once again remind that there is nothing “negative” in the etymology of the term, in this respect it is more apt and traditional than the suggested alternatives - blends, telescopes, portmanteaus, whose primary meaning has nothing whatsoever to do with linguistics and, terminologically, are blatantly metaphoric. Despite this, the term “contamination’ is still used in the western linguistic tradition (and in this meaning, in The Russian tradition as well) in the meaning of “error” or “slip of the tongue”. ABBYY Lingvo 12 supplies the following definition of the term: “the process by which one word or phrase is altered because of mistaken associations with another word or phrase; for example, the substitution of ‘irregardless’ for ‘regardless’ by association with such words as ‘irrespective’”. This aspect of contamination is taken into account in our investigation, but is analyzed to a lesser extent.

The broad understanding and treatment of contamination rises a number of linguistic and methodological problems. Let is briefly deal with them in reverse order. If the notion of the term is so all-encompassing that it embraces language units of different language levels, is it justifiable to coherently regard all the levels or should a research-worker put a premium on one particular level, say, lexemic, because it is there that contamination is most wide-spread? Apparently, if an investigation on typology is under way, all the levels (phonemic, morphemic, lexemic, phraseological, syntactic) should be elucidated. But if the work is done within the framework of lexicology, preferably, one level should be regarded. Given this, we analyzed primarily word-building contamination elsewhere (see Lavrova 2007, 2009 (i), (ii)). The other problem is directly connected with lexicography: if the notion of contamination is so multi-faceted, probably, one should allocate two separate entries for linguistic contamination: one for syntactic speech errors, tongue slips and deliberate punning, the other – for word-building application.

Despite the above-mentioned fact that foreign scholars do not usually go as far as to analyze syntactic contamination (D. Thurner, 1993; A. Lehrer, 2003; St. Gries, 2004, 2006), some, to our scholastic gratification, accept it and even trace it to the semantics of the word (Gerald Leonard Cohen, 1987; J. Banister, 2008; J. Kremer, 2009). J. Banister’s “Addictionary” is ideographic and contains up to 300 entries, treating as contaminated not only the obvious “commoditease” (commodity + tease: a product everyone wants but no one can get), “airudite” (erudite + air: demonstrating an appalling lack of common sense that frequently occurs among people who have achieved advanced academic degrees), but also such expressions as “gross earnings” – money made by doing disgusting things; foreign fallacy – the idea that some people are foreign and need to be dealt with through a specific policy. The combination “gross earnings” is a case of punning based on the two meanings of the first word “gross” – (1) “rough”, “approximate” and (2) “rude”, “ruthless”. In the example cited the latter meaning is actualized, which leads to the contamination of the whole phrase: the terminological meaning “the difference between total revenue from sales and the total cost of purchases or materials, with an adjustment for stock” changes into the facetious “dirty money”. The example “foreign fallаcy”, which does not contain word-building (word-forming) contamination either, is a case of set-phrase decomposition via “foreign policy”, the meaning of “politics” being retained in the resultant contaminated expression, which is characterized by a palpable negative connotation.

J. Kremer’s “Squeasel Words in Real Life” has more than one thousand entries and is also ideographic, that is words and expressions are subsumed under broader conceptual headings, such as “Books and Other Publications”, “Business and Organisations”, “Movies and Television Shows”, “Product Names”. The author allocates a separate heading to syntactic contamination entitled “Fractured Sayings”; it represents contamination resulting from both tongue-slips and punning. Here are some examples: “Marge and I are insufferable friends (inseparable + suffer - оговорка ); “My husband doesn't munch words” (mince + munch - оговорка ); “I resent insinuendoes” (insinuations + innuendoes – оговорка ); “Diets are for people who are thick and tired of it” (thick + sick and tired – игра слов ).

Syntactic contamination can also be viewed as an “agrammatical” (or “counter-grammatical”) utterance, brought about by intra-linguistic interference – the simultaneous activation of several synonymic expressions in the speaker’s mind, each of which strives to find its way into the utterance. Despite its “counter-grammaticality”, many such expressions can be observed in the speech of intellectuals and academic people, that is those who have got a university degree. G. Leonard C. points out that the overwhelming majority of the examples amassed by him for the monogragh “Syntactic Blends in English Parole” (1987) were taken from the speech of professors and well-educated people, including philologists and linguists: “There is also a popular misconception that blending (also known as anacoluthon and contamination) is the result of ‘sloppy’ speech, but my collected examples should help lay this view to rest. Most of my conversation is with university people, particularly professors, and so a very large number of the examples are drawn from highly educated persons. Many other examples come from newsbroadcasters or their interviewees, i.e. educated people who are making a special effort to avoid speech errors. And all my examples come from native-born speakers of English” [Leonard, 1987:1,3]. It follows then that syntactic contamination is partially caused by a relatively high speech tempo, the speaker’s willingness to convey a vast amount of mental information in the fastest possible way, and this, sooner or later, is bound to result in compression, or condensation. It can also be brought about by an intentional word play, in which case we can assume that contamination performs an evaluative, expressive, poetic and aesthetic, ludic, pragmatic, persuasive, discourse-generating, advertising, euphemistic, translational and metaphoric functions. Here are some examples from G. Leonard C.:

“‘a tough upgoing’: in: ‘The tanker coach knows it will be a tough upgoing;’ spoken by a radio announcer. The UMR (University of Missouri-Rolla) swim team was to have a meet against a team that had beaten UMR earlier in the season” [Leonard Cohen G., 1987:11]. Here the announcer’s tongue-slip results in the contamination of the expressions “rough going”, “a tough match”, “an uphill struggle”. This is one of the rare cases when syntactic contamination is formed on the basis of three, rather than two prototype constructions.

The form “a very few percentage (of people)” [Leonard Cohen, 1987:11] emerged on the basis of uniting two expressions - “very few people” and “a very small percentage of people”.

More often than not there are some attendant circumstances that foster contamination: a related sound, letter or grammatical forms in a third word-combination. Thus, “a station identification” [Leonard Cohen, 1987:10] emerged on the basis of the recurrent phrase “We will pause for station identification” and “We will pause for a station break”, the fostering factor here is the use of the indefinite article in the phrase “to make a positive identification”. The form “after long last” [Leonard Cohen, 1987:13] appeared as a result of intralinguistic interference: “at long last” was applicated onto “after so many years”, the fostering factor being the letter “a-” in the prepositions “after” и “at”.

3. Syntactic vs word-forming contamination

Syntactic contamination differs considerably and meaningfully from the word-forming one – and beware: here we could use more or less indiscriminately the terms “blends”, “portmanteau words”, “telescope-words”, “hybrid-word”, “fusion-words”, “amalgamated words” and whatnot (including the international German ones – “Wortmischung” or “Wortziehung”). In this case a new word emerges as a result of blending two quasi-morphemes (morphemic splinters), it can be both amalgamated, if the elements are superimposed on each other, and non-amalgamated, if they are simply drawn together. One should make a rider here: the very last sentence you just read is another proof that other terms, namely “amalgamated words” and “blending”, are not fully suggestive of the phenomenon: they, rather, reflect the process, or mechanism, or procedure, or the means by which the word-froming contamination emerges. One of the many peculiarities of such words is that it is a formidable, daunting and, in high probability, futile task to figure out any regularity in the contraction of morphemes, for depending on the speaker’s needs, they can be curtailed either up to a syllable, in which case the coveted regularity just might be possible, or up to a letter – a vowel or a consonant, and here one might be at a loss as to the constituent elements that actually form the word, as, for example, in the words bash (bang + smash) — a crushing blow; a party. Also to criticize; bathetic (bathos + pathetic) — overly sentimental; beano (bean + bingo) — a form of bingo played with beans. If the first example just may be suggestive of the prototype words that are behind it, the second one is conducive to an utterly false interpretation - one is tempted to deem that the first motivating component is he word “bath”, which is wrong. The last example is redolent of a slang-word, built with the help of a productive (at least in the sphere of slang) suffix “-o”; to discern the word “bingo” is hardly possible for two reasons: the resultant contaminated word does not contain the consonant “g”, crucial for the identification of “bingo”, and in he middle it has “i” rather than the diphthongoid.

From the above discussion it follows that the term “contamination” aptly and fully reflects the complex linguistic phenomenon known as “contamination”, which manifests itself on all language levels – from the phonemic to the syntactic one. Phonetic (paronymic) contamination does not constitute a separate study of our investigation, because it logically results from the “blending” of two words, with the emergence or a third, occasional speech unit, not, as a rule, registered by dictionaries. The contiguous terms “blends”, “telescope words”, “portmanteau words”, etc. can be synonymous with contamination on condition that they are treated broadly and are meant not only to cover word-forming contamination but syntactic as well. Further investigation of both word-forming and syntactic contamination is replete with practical as well as theoretical implications: firstly, it deepens the understanding of why interlocutors create occasional words in their speech; secondly, it contributes to a closer differentiation between speech errors, mistakes and tongue-slips; thirdly, it might be helpful in elucidating the mental processes that are at work during intra-linguistic interference.

Insights into contamination: a multi-layered classification approach

Words are mirrors of their times. By looking at the areas in which the vocabulary of a language is expanding in a given period, we can form a fairly accurate impression of the chief preoccupations of society at that time and the points at which the boundaries of human endeavor are being advanced.

John Ayto, 1999.

(20th Century Words. The Story of the New Words in English over the Last Hundred Years)

1. Introduction

Contamination is a well-known word-building pattern, but it still remains one of the most popular devices authors resort to with a view to producing a certain stylistic effect. Most of the scholars who devoted their papers to contamination (L. Pound, 1914, H. Wentwort, 1934; E. Partridge, 1938; B. Andersen, 1983; M. Berg, 1987; G. West, 1993; D. Thurner; S. Gwara, 1996; М. Kelly 1998; A. Lehrer, 2003; S. Gries, 2004), are unanimous in the opinion that there is hardly a person who has never come across at least one contaminated word.

Contamination is an ample source of both neologisms (plopper – plastic + copper ‘an alloy of copper’; conceptacle – conception + receptacle ‘a reservoir where babies are artificially conceived and grown’; synthane – synthetic + methane ‘synthetic gas’; biopic – bi + myopic ‘completely blind’) and nonce-words that are characterized by their occasional and stylistically marked character (washine – wash + shine ‘to wash oneself clean’; intaxication – tax + intoxication ‘euphoria caused by a tax-cut’; insectivization – insect + activization ‘a sharp increase in the amount of insects’).

2. Historical overview of contamination

Contaminated words began to be actively studied by linguists in the 19th century, namely by S. Pegge (1803), H. Sweet (1892,1903), A. Аbbot (1873), О. Jesperson (1894), J. Bergstrom (1906), etc. Thus, J. Bergstrom cites examples of such words starting from J. Chaucer, W. Shakespeare, L. Carroll, and ending by such periodicals as ‘Notes and Queries’, ‘Punch’, ‘Academy’, ‘The Globe’, ‘The Spectator’, ‘The London Opinion’; a few of them are registered by ‘New English Dictionary’ and ‘Farmer-Henley Dictionary’.

According to H. Wentwort, there is hardly a linguistic phenomenon that has got as many nominations as contamination, namely contamination, portmanteau word, portmanteau, blend, blend-word, amalgam, amalgam word, amalgam form, fusion, fusion word, composite, composite word, overlapping word, conflation, coalesced word, coalescence form, telescope word, telescoped word, hybrid, analogical neologism, brunch-word, counter-word, cross-form, word blending, suitcase word, Timanteau word. Some of the terms are borrowed from German: Vermischung, Mischung, Wortmischungen, Zusammenziehungen. This diversity is presumably accounted for by the fact that it depends on what aspect in the word-building pattern is foregrounded – its blended, clipped or amalgamated nature. Not renouncing the rest of the terms, we give preference to the term ‘contamination’, inasmuch as it embraces not only the structural peculiarities of this word building pattern, but also the resulting semantic fusion, which is never complete, though.

3. Contamination in fantasy novels

In fantasy books the contaminated word is multifunctional – it performs the nominative, expressive and emotive functions. It can be introduced by an author as either an expressive synonym for the already existing realia or for designating not real, imaginary things and characters. The emotive function of contamination is manifest when the writer aims to convey his/her emotions about what they describe. Let us draw some examples:

In Stephen King’s ‘The Waste Lands’ one of the characters (Eddie) faces an encounter with a cyborg bear Shardik, to whom he gives the name ‘Bearzilla’ – contamination from the words ‘bear’ and ‘Godzilla’. ‘Bearzilla’ is a huge blood-thirsty animal, which is a mortal threat to anyone who comes across it (King 2003:42):

(1) Eddie did not waste the few crucial extra moments he had been given. He went up the tree like a monkey on a stick, pausing only once to make sure the gunslinger’s revolver was still seated firmly in the waistband of his pants. He was in terror, already half convinced that he was going to die (what else could he expect, now that Henry wasn’t around to watch out for him?), but a crazy laughter raved through his head just the same. Been treed, he thought. How bout that, sports fans? Been treed by Bearzilla.

In the same book there is another example (King 2003:578):

(2) I eventually became so disturbed by her blatting that I erased the circuits controlling her non-voluntaries. I emancipated her, you might say. She responded by throwing herself in the river. See you later, Patriciagator.

The word ‘Patriciagator’ is a contamination from ‘Patricia’ and ‘alligator’. In S. King’s ‘The Waste Lands’ there is a nuclear catastrophe that swipes off lots of people and machines. Among the survivors there are two anthropomorphic trains - Blaine and Patricia that are capable of communicating with each other and the outer world. Patricia soon starts missing his creators (people) and commits suicide by directing its route through a broken bridge. The other train is not particularly sad about what happened to Patricia and makes a sarcastic comment on that score: ‘See you later, Patriciagator’, which is a distortion of the familiar colloquial formula ‘See you later, alligator. – After a while, crocodile’.

There are quite a few contaminated words in J.K. Rowlings' books about Harry Potter, most of which are used as proper and geographical names, magic formulas and incantations.

Contaminated words that are present on the pages of ‘Harry Potter’ are used with reference to imaginary, made-up realia, characteristic of the co-existing world of witches and wizards that is invisible to the so-called Muggles (neutral) or Mudbloods (derogatory), that is ordinary people who do not possess magical powers. Thus, there is a magical street ‘DiagonAlley’ (diagonal + alley), which can be used only by witches and wizards and which is accessible through the wall behind the inn ‘Leaky Cauldron’ (Rowling 2007:423):

(3) At once the bricks began to whirl and spin: a hole appeared in the middle of them, which grew wider and wider, finally forming an archway on to the narrow cobbled street that was Diagon Alley.

In the series of novels about Harry Potter there are most revolting and formidable characters – Dementors, guards of the prison of Azkaban, soulless and therefore ruthless. They represent the dark forces and are true servants of Voldemort (Rowling, 2007:34):

(4) People are disappearing and dying and he’s behind it – Voldemort. I’ve told you this over and over again, he kills Muggles for fun. Even the fogs – they are caused by Dementors, and if you can’t remember what they are, ask your son!

The cited abstract belongs to Harry Potter who relates the evil-doings of the Dementors to his uncle. The word ‘dementor’ is formed by contamination and combines the meaning and structure of the words ‘demented’ and ‘tormentor’. The fear and trepidation instilled by Dementors in their victims equals only those caused by the Dark Lord Voldemort himself. The most feared punishment anyone can receive is the so-called ‘Dementors’ kiss’, which has nothing to do with a kiss proper. The procedure involves the sucking out of the victim’s soul and leaving them ‘demented’ or mentally deranged.

One of the good characters in the novel is a boy called Neville, who is a little absent-minded and forgetful. To help him get rid of his poor memory, Neville’s grandmother sends him as a Christmas present a ‘Remembrall’ (‘remember’ + ‘ball’ + ‘all’) – a glass ball that changes its colour every time Nevilles forgets something important (Rowling 1997:108):

(5) A barn owl brought Neville a small package from his grandmother. He opened it excitedly and showed them a glass ball the size of a large marble, which seemed to be full of white smoke. ‘It’s a Remembrall!’ he explained. ‘Gran knows I forget things – this tells you if there is something you’ve forgotten to do.

As a nonce-word contamination is a revelation and a good proof of the author’s creativity and individuality. To be fully understood by the reader, it should naturally be placed in a context that would be conducive to revealing its subtle shades of meaning.

4. Contamination in advertising

Contamination is not uncommon to advertising, either. Moreover, recent years have faced a sizeable increase in this word-building model. This is due to the fact that the aim of advertising is to draw the recipient’s attention to the product or service and to persuade them to buy or use it. By way of illustration such words as ‘ultavel’ (ultra + travel), ‘viewty’ (view + beauty), ‘rainbrella’ (rain + umbrella), ‘eurotainer’ (european + container); ‘bonanza’ (banana + bonanza) can be given.

One of the peculiarities of advertising in general and advertising where contamination is made use of, in particular, is that sometimes negative aspects and phenomena are represented as contextually positive. Thus, in the following abstract (Daily Mail, Friday, March 26th 2004:26) the contaminated word ‘may-hem’ (may + mayhem) changes its negative connotation into a positive one, insofar as it describes a hectic period in May when people are bound to fly from Birmingham. Relatively recently there appeared the word ‘sloganeering’ – contamination from ‘slogan’ and ‘engineering’ used to refer to the bill-board type of advertising.

(6) Massive May-Hem. Half Price Sale Fly from Birmingham. All Routes Every Day in May. Book a hotel – win free flights.

The carried out research shows that contamination is also often used as a newspaper or a journal headline. In a compressed form it does not only disclose the contents of the article, but, more often than not, reveals the author’s attitude towards the described facts and events. As is well known, the beginning and the final part of any discourse are the strong positions of an utterance: the beginning makes the recipient familiar with the theme and, perhaps, sets a particular mood; the final part sums up the major points raised and clarified in the body of the text.

5. Contamination as newspaper headline

The interpretation of a contaminated headline is a three-step process, which includes:

1) The actual perception of a nominative (word), multi-nominative (word-combination) or a predicative (sentence) unit and the formulation of a mental hypothesis as regards its meaning.

2) The reading or aural perception of the whole text with a view to either confirmation or renouncement of the original hypothesis.

3) The interpretation of the headline and verification of the original hypothesis based on the information obtained from the text.

The second stage is presumably the lengthiest, because it involves the structural and semantic analysis of the ‘clue’ words used in the text, that is words which are relevant to the information the author aims to convey. Let us consider some examples (BusinessWeek, June 7th 2004):

(7) The Rise of the Mompreneurs

Here the contaminated word ‘Mompreneurs’ (mom + entrepreneurs) discloses its true meaning only after the reader gets familiar with the whole contents of the article which covers the working possibilities for mothers who choose to stay at home to take care of their little children. Using the Internet and working as a part-time free-lancer they can successfully juggle work and family.

(8) How to E-ppraise your property

Here the contaminated word ‘e-ppraise’ (electronic + appraise) is recognized as such with the help of supplementary graphical means (the so-called graphon): the initial ‘E’ and the following ‘p’ are separated by a dash. The initial hypothesis that the reader can formulate runs as follows: ‘to e-ppraise one’s property’ means to gage the relative value of property via the Internet. After reading the article the reader gets confirmation to the hypothesis though it is partially modified and elaborated, because there is some additional information that helps to understand that, first, such a service can be both payable and free of charge and, second, that the database is far from complete, which means that some apartments can’t after all be appraised via the Internet and therefore one has to resort to professional guidance in gaging the value of their property (BusinessWeek, June 14th, 2004).

6. Pragmatic, structural and stylistic aspects of contamination

A detailed analysis of structure and pragmatic function of contamination can be found in A. Lehrer (2003) and St. Gries (2004). A. Lehrer claims that when the speaker uses an occasional contaminated word, he/she has in mind the so-called perlocutionary intent, which is realized by means of several distinct aims:

1. To attract the recipient’s attention to the form of the word
2. To make the unusual word memorable
3. To bring out an inner or outer smile of the hearer
4. To produce a feeling of inner gratification as a result of having deciphered the meaning of the word correctly
5. To create a social bond with the recipient

(9) The perlocutionary intent casts a new perspective on this phenomenon. The creator doesn’t want the hearer/listener to respond quickly and automatically. If the goal is to capture someone’s attention with a clever or puzzling new word, a slowed-down response is desirable; it suggests that the hearer/reader is paying attention to the form of the stimulus. Understanding blends and other neologisms, then, is to be compared to literary tools like metaphor, metonymy, and other figures of speech, all of which may have the aesthetic goal of providing pleasure, amusement, and entertainment as well as meaning (Lehrer, 2003:380).

In ‘Shouldn’t it be breakfunch? A Quantitative analysis of blend structure in English’ (2004) by St. Gries there is a detailed analysis of the relation between the length of the source-word and its contribution to the resultant contaminated word. According to St. Gries, if the first source-word is longer than the second, it contributes less to the final word. Thus, the word ‘cinnament’ consists of two source-words – cinnamon and mint, the former is longer than the letter, therefore it contributes approximately 70 % of its structure, whereas the word ‘mint’, which is structurally shorter, contributes 100 % of its graphemic and phonemic representation to the resultant nonce-word. Although this rule, on the whole, tends to hold true, a rider should be made that it is only applicable to a restricted number of contaminated words, namely the non-amalgamated type. If, however, associative contamination is under consideration, the general rule runs as follows: a shorter word is completely superimposed on a longer one, the resultant word retaining the structures of both words to a full extent: intelligentleman, magpiety, Mexicola, Newmania.

Another vulnerable aspect of St. Gries’ analysis consists in total disregard of the relation between structural contribution of the source-word and its semantic contribution to the final word.

One of the aims of our research is to pinpoint stylistic peculiarities of contamination and to define what it entails for both language and language community. The method of overall selection of 3000 contaminated words taken from modern fiction, periodicals and advertising revealed that stylistics-wise, the whole stock of contaminated words can be divided into colloquial (72%), terminological (17,4 %), and neutral (10,6%). A rider should be made here that the majority of colloquial contaminated words are not registered by dictionaries and can be referred to as occasional neologisms or authors’ coinages (by ‘author’ we mean not only writers but anyone who creates such words in their speech). Table I represents the relative percentage of contaminated words across different stylistic strata and indicates particular spheres of human activity where they can be encountered.

Table I Relative percentage of contaminated words across different stylistic strata and spheres of human activity

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

The table suggests that contamination predominates in computer language, journalism and exact sciences, such as biology, physics and chemistry.

7. Comparative analysis of contamination and other word-building patterns

In modern English there are many words that pose the query of their classification as either contaminated, compound or derived ones. Their status remains debatable due to the presence in their structure of word-building elements that can be interpreted in different ways. These elements might include Greek and Latin affixes, such as ‘para-’, ‘-rama’, ‘-crat’, ‘-graph’. On the one hand, they can be called suffixes proper when they are part of usual, dictionary-registered word-stock (parachute, marathon, panorama, democrat, autograph). On the other hand, when they form such analogical extensions as ‘talkathon’, ‘walkathon’, ‘aromarama’, ‘foolocrat’, ‘funnygraph’, which are nonce-words and are, therefore, not registered by normative dictionaries, one can definitely feel that the process of blending or contamination takes place, because it is not the suffix that is simply attached to a particular stem, but two words are merged in such a way that the resultant word is stylistically marked and possesses either an ironical or a humorous effect. Such words are called ‘combining forms’ and their elements – ‘affixoids’. Another group of examples is supplied by words with ‘-gate’ as their second element. They are formed from the source-word ‘Watergate’ and denote any kind of scandal, usually on a big scale: Irangate, Hollywoodgate. Here the question is how we should treat them: as compound, derived or contaminated words? Presumably, they are more like derived words, because the element ‘-gate’ has acquired a generalized meaning of ‘scandal’, and this is one of the requirements for a suffix – to possess broad generalized semantics. Another example is ‘moneymoon’, which is formed from the elements ‘money’ and ‘honeymoon’ and looks like a compound, but is, in fact, a contaminated word. The criterion for distinguishing between the two word-building patterns (composition and contamination) is the latest derivational procedure, which comprises the fusion of two words – ‘money’ and ‘honeymoon’, with the resultant word being tinged with humour. Additional criterion that can be applied here as well is the degree of motivation of the emerging word: in the case of a compound motivation is not necessarily clear and can be lost, whereas in the case of a contaminated word motivation is always clear and is meant to be so. Going by this criterion, if we compare the words ‘honeymoon’ and ‘moneymoon’, we shall see that the degree of motivation is definitely higher in ‘moneymoon’ than ‘honeymoon’: the former describes an expensive honeymoon, which is reflected in its structure; the structure of the latter, on the contrary, is not quite transparent and theoretically it might mean something completely different from what it denotes in reality.

In contradistinction to other word-building patterns the constituents of a contaminated word are rarely morphemes proper, they are to be referred to as quasi-morphemes, insofar as they are represented by ‘splinters’ of complete morphemes: in the word ‘edutainment’ (education + entertainment) both elements are quasi-morphemes, for one won’t find either ‘edu-’ or ‘tainment’ among the repertoire of constituent elements of the English language.

There is no justification in treating the elements of contaminated words as semi-affixes, either, which is, though, sometimes the case due to the ambiguous term ‘semi-affix’. This reflects its intermediate status between a root-morpheme and an affix, from both semantic and structural points of view: a semi-affix can potentially function in an utterance independently, it possesses, however, a more abstract, sometimes hardly palpable meaning than that of a root-morpheme. Some examples are: ‘-proof’, ‘-man’, ‘-land’, ‘-like’, ‘-wise’.

Table II represents the constituent elements of words and their salient features.

Table II Constituent elements of words and their salient features

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

8. Principles of classification

One of the first detailed classifications of contaminated words was the one suggested by L. Pound as far back as 1914. The author singles out the following 9 groups:

1. Clever literary coinages: galumphing, fidgitated, Brugglesmith, Ohianna, sneakret.
2. Political terms; also the coinages of cartoonists, editors and other newspaper writers: Prohiblican, Popocrat, Indocrat, Demopublican, Ulsteria, Moosevelt, Refereaders, coronotions, scrawky.
3. “Nonce blends” (non-existence blends): sweedle (swindle + wheedle), cruical (crucial + critical), criticular (critic + particular), slickery (slick + slippery), stretch (stress + pitch). (10) Professor Weekly tells of a student in a college in the English midlands named Turpin who sat next to a student named Constantine, and once heard himself startlingly addressed by a lecturer as Turpentine (Pound, 1914:22).
4. Children’s Coinages: snuddle, smokolotive, snansh, snangle, numberous, tremense, canimal, promptual, surprisement, suspose.
5. Conscious Folk Formations, whimsical or facetious in intention and usage: solemncholy, sweatspirtion, bumbershoot, bumbersoll, scandiculous, slantendicular, screwmatics.
6. Unconscious Folk Formations, not jocular in intention but seriously meant: diphtherobia, despimento, insinuendo, rasparated, imperence, clearn, pesterous, vexasparated.
7. Coined Place-Names; also coined Personal Names: Texarkana, Ohiowa, Mexicalo, Eldarema, Maybeth, Bethene, Leilabeth.
8. Scientific names in the terminology of chemistry, medicine and other sciences: chloroform, formaldehyde, chloral, dextrose.
9. Names for Articles of Merchandise: Nabisco wafers made by the National Biscuit Company; Sealpackerchief, Locomobile, Everlastic, electrolier.

It can clearly be seen that the underlying criterion here, which the author does not somehow clarify, is the sphere of their usage and origin. Dick Thurner in his ‘Portmanteau Dictionary’ (1993) singles out as many as forty-two groups, among which are ‘Advertising and Journalism’, ‘Business and Finance’, ‘Computers’. The main principle of his classification is again the origin or the source of contamination. In fact, various criteria can be put forward for grouping such words: we suggest as many as 13. Let us name them and describe in some detail.

1. The language level a word belongs to. According to this principle there can be lexical, syntactic and phraseological (idiomatic) contamination. Lexical contamination emerges when a single word is formed by contamination, for example, ‘cast-ironical’ (cast-iron + ironical). Syntactic contamination emerges when one of the words that is included into a set word combination is a contaminated one: ‘apartment for runt’ (apartment for rent + runt). Phraseological contamination takes place whenever one of the words in an idiomatic expression (a phrase or a proverb) is contaminated, for example ‘Good ribbance’ (good riddance + ribbon).
2. The type of linkage between the constituents of contaminated words. From structural point of view two basic types of contamination can be singled out: haplologic (amalgamated) and non-haplologic (non-amalgamated). Haplology is the omission of one of the two identical syllables placed in immediate proximity, for instance (the common letters are underlined): cinema-elstrom – cinema + maelstrom (a series of movies), collaboratory – collaborate + laboratory (an extra laboratory), comediocre – comedy + mediocre (a comedy of poor quality). Non-haplologic contamination covers the cases when the initial part of a word is joined to the final part of another word without superimposing any syllables or letters of those words, as in the examples brunch – breakfast + lunch (a meal that combines breakfast and lunch), coffeezilla – coffee + Godzilla (strong coffee), docufantasy – documentary + fantasy (a not true to life documentary).
3. Part of speech the source-words belong to. Our research reveals that there can be at least 16 models according to which contaminated words are built, the part of speech being defined by the second source-word.
Table III represents the 16 models of contaminated words according to different parts of speech that can be used as source-words
Table III Models of contaminated words according to the category of source - words
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
4. Thematic principle. Examples of contaminated words can be supplied by almost every sphere of modern life: advertising, food, clothing, cinema, zoology, weather, religion, science and technology. Some examples include: chimpanzebra – chimpanzee + zebra; geep – goat + sheep ; bluffalo – bluff + buffalo; bisalo – bison + buffalo; cameleopard – camel + leopard; animule – animal + mule (zoology), dramedy – drama + comedy; actorbat – actor + acrobat; celluloud – celluloid + loud (a sound motion picture); cinecism – cinema + cynicism; cinemarotic – cinema + erotic; cinemagnate – cinema + magnate; cartoonnews – cartoon + news; informercial – information + commercial; filmusical – film + musical (cinema); adverteasement advertisement + tease, advertorial advertisement + editorial, badvertising – bad + advertising , brandstanding – brand + outstanding (advertising).
5. The thematic-rhematic division of contaminated words. Most of the contaminated words can be divided into thematic-rhematic, that is the ones that contain in their structure the morphological basis (given or retrievable information, theme) and the morphological marker or descriptor, that is novel information (rheme): appletite – appetite + apple (appetite (theme) for apples (rheme)), shamateur – sham (rheme) + amateur (theme). Equipollent contamination involves the creation of a word the constituent elements of which synonymously describe one and the same referent: needcessity – need + necessity, shimmer – shine + glimmer.
6. The number of referents the source-words unites. There are standard contaminated words, the source words of which describe different (at least two) referents: benefacial – beneficial + facial, and pleonastic, when the source-words indicate one and the same referent: crocogator – crocodile + alligator, begincement – beginning + commencement.
7. Stylistic colouring. According to this criterion there are stylistically marked (carbecue – car + barbecue) and unmarked (bionics – biology+electronics) words. The former group is represented by words which are rarely registered by dictionaries, the latter is comprised of terms and neutral words.
8. The degree of phonetic identity of constituent elements. Depending on the degree of phonetic cohesion that takes place, contaminated words can be divided into homophonic (catalogue – cat + catalogue) and paronymic (laxicographer – lax + lexicographer). In the former case the resultant contaminated word coincides with a usual one, though in fact it consists of two different source-words; in the latter case the resultant word resembles a usual one, but is never identical to it.
9. Hierarchic relationships between the constituents of words. Under this criterion three distinct groups can be singled out: hyper-hyponymic, hypo-hyperonic and cohyponyms. The first group is exemplified by the word animule – animal + mule, where the first element is a generic word, the second denotes a particular species of animals. If the positions of the generic word and the species-word are changed, the resultant word will be mulanimal – mule + animal, with the relations being hypo-hyperonic. The most numerous group is supplied by contamination where the source words are cohyponyms: zebrule (zebra + mule), whye (wheat + rye), tangelo (tangerine + pomelo), swoose (swan+goose), spork (spoon+fork), chimpanzebra (chimpanzee+zebra), pomato (potato+tomato).
10. Semantic relationships between the source-words. The semantic analysis of the relationships between the source-words of contamination reveals that they can be synonymic ( smothercate – smother + suffocate), complementary (eggcessories – eggs + acessories) and antonymic (oxymoronic) ( illiterature – illiterate + literature, humanimal – human + animal).
11. Means of creating contaminated words. They can be of two types: linguistics and graphic, sometimes there is a combination of the two: Indy-pendence, Celeb-aiting, Cam-bodge, half-a-jamas, pane-o-rama. Graphic means include symbols ($tar), capitalisaion of some part of the word (LaboRATory), dash (UN-believable, term-inator, may-hem, re- pairing), brackets ((t)issue; n(euro)sis).
12. Etymology of the constituents. According to this criterion English proper and hybrid contaminated words can be distinguished. In hybrids one of the source-words is, as a rule, a German or a French one: big-schnozzed – big-nosed + schnobern + der Schnabel; cinemathek – cinema + die Bibliothek; déjà new – déjà vu + new.
13. Type of constituents (common vs proper name). In modern English both common nouns and proper names can emerge as a result of contamination (personal names, geographical names). The resultant word can contain both a common and a proper name: Dakowing – Dakota + Wyoming; Calexico – California + Mexico; Kanorado – Kansas + Colorado; Olouise – Olive + Louise; Rosella – Rose + Bella; Armina – Ardelia + Wilhemina, Romiette – Romeo + Juliette; Adnelle – Addison + Nellie; Adelloyd – Addie + Lloyd, Billary – Bill + Hilary Chicargot – Chicago + argot; Alaskanimal – Alaska + animal, Parisque – Paris + risqué; Jewtocracy – Jew + plutocracy.


Contamination is a complex linguistic phenomenon, the very name of which suggests that the merging not only of two or more source-words takes places, but also the merging of concepts that stand behind them, the resulting semantic fusion is not a mere sum total of the constituents, but more often than not a novel concept, humorously tinged or otherwise. Being wide-spread in modern fiction, advertising and periodicals it serves an efficient means of realizing the author’s perlocutionary intent, which ultimately presupposes to establish a social bond with the recipient. In a compressed form it manages not only to convey the factual information about some realia, but also to express the author’s attitude to and evaluation of a particular fact or event. In fantasy novels it also serves as an efficient means of creating a co-existing, parallel world inhabited by imaginary characters. Given that, most of contaminated words are occasional colloquial nonce-words that are used as either expressive synonyms for some existing word or as unique words denoting unique fictitious objects and phenomena. Consisting of splinters of free morphemes, contamination provides ample ground for analyzing the complex relationship between its source-words, some of the criteria being semantic, structural and stylistic.

Contamination: a record of success

1. Introduction

In modern English contaminated words are actively used in different types of discourse – advertisements, periodicals, political and public speeches. They also form a certain part of terminology. Depending on the sphere of its application, contamination can be either neutral or stylistically marked. In the latter case, if the word manages to find its way into a dictionary, it usually has stylistic notes, such as ‘facetious’, ‘slang’, ‘derogatory’ and other. Traditional terminology seems to be reluctant to derive new words by means of contamination. In contrast, modern branches of science, such as computer study, amply make use of this pattern: it seems to be very efficient in expressing a complex notion through one single word. The aim of the present article is multiple: first, by mean of various examples to understand why some contaminated words are more successful, that is, more tenacious than others; second, to disclose the notion of syntactic contamination comparing it with the stylistic device of decomposition; third, to show that contamination, syntactic or not, can be a medium of allusion and be, in itself, an intertext.

2. The Record of Some Contaminated Words and Their Linguistic Destiny

A language isn’t a brick wall, it seems comfortable with gaps.

(Allan Metcalf, “Predicting New Words”, 2002)

According to J. Algeo, the number of neological blends is not great – they account for no more than 5% of all new lexis. Contaminated words rarely become part and parcel of native speakers’ active vocabulary or form a separate entry in a dictionary. It takes a minimum of 20 years, and ideally 30-40 years, to determine whether a new word will find its way into the language norm. The aim of the present article is to briefly highlight the history behind some contaminated words and to analyze the reasons behind their linguistic success or failure and fall into oblivion.

The word “digerati” first appeared in 1992 in the “New York Times Magazine” as the last word of a lengthy paragraph: “Igniting the Kendall Square controversy by the economist George Gilder, published this month in a narrowly circulated but closely read Silicon Valley magazine called Upside. Mr. Gilder, perhaps best known as the supply-sider whose book ‘Wealth and Poverty’ provided the intellectual underpinnings of the so-called Reagan revolution, has no experience in computer design. But he has written widely on the subject in recent years, and his opinions, though often controversial, are taken seriously among the computer digerati” [Metcalf, 2002:10]. Apparently, the word refers to the readers of the computer journal “Upside”. The second component of the blend is “literati”, which has sporadically been used in English since 1621 with reference to scholars and men of letters. Supposedly, the word “digerati” was formed by analogical extension from “glitterati” created earlier and meaning “distinguished celebrities”. According to A. Metcalf, the word appeared in the article by J. Markoff in 1992. W. Safire, a New York Times journalist asked editor T. Race, who had recommended the word to J. Markoff, to provide a definition for the word, which he did and it ran as follows: “people highly skilled in the processing and manipulation of digital information; wealthy or scholarly techno-nerds”. This word can be heard among native speakers and, now and then, pops up in periodicals.

The word “schmoozeoisie” (schmooze + bourgeoisie) was made by P. Lewis, professor at a Boston college, and is used with reference to a group of people who must “work verbally”, that is, must speak a lot in their profession, such as teachers and psychologists. After a short period of time, it appeared in the book by A. Soukhanov entitled “Word Watch: The Stories Behind the Words of Our Lives” (1995), and after a year – in the article by W. Safire. The contaminated word “schmoozeoisie”, despite a temporary popularity, didn’t caught on: according to A. Metcalf, in 2002 the “Google” search system had only one “schmooseoisie” reference: the word featured in a speech addressed to Information Control Society: “The digital future has fallen into the clutches of the schmooseoisie – pseudo-experts engaged in content-free opinionizing” [ cited in A. Metcalf, 2002:19]. After his first success P. Lewis wrote the article “A Week in the Life of a Neologist”, where ten more words of the same structural pattern featured. Among them were such words as “republicants” (Republicans + cants), “republicuts” (Republican + cuts), Democrits (hypocrites + democrat), newtmare (Newt (Gingrich) + nightmare). These words still sporadically appear in modern periodicals.

During the period of 1984 – 1989 comedian R. Hall wrote a series of books, whose exclusive object was comprised of contaminated words that the author called “sniglets” – apparently, a blend of “sniggering” and “singlets”. These are words that “do not appear in the dictionary but should”. Some examples are: blurrections – blur + directions: misleading directions; cinemuck – cinema + muck: 1. Food leftovers that cover a cinema floor; 2. A movie of poor quality. After a dubious success of the first book, R. Hall got published 4 more, called respectively:“More Sniglets”, “Angry Young Sniglets”, “When Sniglets Ruled the Earth”, “Unexplained Sniglets of the Universe”. Soon, however, the popularity of the book and the words it contained started to diminish, which is probably accounted for by a redundant character those words had.

Writer G. Burgess (1866-1951) created the facetious word “bromidioms” (bromide + idiom),

which means “a hackneyed, trivial expression”. The word is motivated by the direct meaning of the chemical term “bromide” – a light sedative. The transference of meaning, apparently, went the following way: a person who takes bromide becomes a little apathetic, sleepy, inactive, unenthusiastic. Consequently, the person’s speech is not enthusiastic or compelling, either: the condition of a person who has taken bromide is transferred on the expressions he uses in speech. In reality, sedatives do not have such a degrading effect and, so, an ironic and facetious use of “bromidiom” is easily detected.

In 1996 F. Albert wrote a book called “Barkitecture”, which is a blend of “bark” and “architecture”. The book contains minute directions to how dogs’ kennels should be constructed.

Writer F. Popcorn in 1996 published a book entitled “Clicking: 16 Trends to FutureFit Your Life, Your Work, and Your Business”, which contained such words as “atmosFear” – atmosphere + fear; “EVElution” – Eve + evolution; “mancipation” – man + emancipation; “shopological” – shop + biological. The first word is related to the fear of an air attack or a plane crash and was inspired by the events of September 11, 2001. The second word is used with reference to a woman’s professional development; the third word describes a man’s emancipation; the fourth word is facetious and refers to women’s biological shopping passion. The contaminated word “linner” is frequently used in Internet-communication, though it is not registered by dictionaries of common lexis. Despite the fact that it was built by the semantic analogy with the word “brunch”, it didn’t caught on for several reasons. First, in “brunch” both constituents are easily decoded, partially, because of the recurrent graphemes “br” and “unch”. In contrast, “linner” retains only one letter of the word “lunch” (l), which is not suggestive enough. Notionally, “brunch” outperforms “linner”: most British and American cafes and restaurants offer “brunch”, but not “linner”.

The authorship of the word “plerk” (play + work) can hardly be established. According to A, Metcalf, it could be either psychologist B. Stephens, or professor H. Ostrom. The word “paradessence” was constructed by writer A. Shakar in his first novel “The Savage Girl”. The author defines it as a paradoxical entity of a product, which simultaneously has two opposed qualities. As an example, coffee can be cited: on the one hand, it is supposed to bring relaxation, on the other – it stimulates physical and mental activity.

One of the most reliable sources that regularly registers new formations in English and American is the American Dialect Society. In 1999 it registered the word “Pokemania” (Pokemon + mania); in 2001 – “Osamaniac” – a woman sexually attracted to Osama ben Laden; the same year the combination “shuicide bomber” was entered – a terrorist who carries a bomb in his shoes.

Analyzing the reasons behind a contaminated word’s success or failure, several factors should be taken into consideration: first, the frequency of its usage; second, unobtrusiveness; third, a broad range of situations in which the word is used; fourth, derivational activity; fifth, topicality of the notion that a word represents. At first blush, it seems doubtful that the objective presence of a gap in a language is not conducive to the formation of new words that are supposed to fill this gap. But this very idea is clearly expressed by A. Metcalf in his monograph “Predicting New Words” (2002). Wordsmiths who expect their words to catch on, often face reality checks: fancy formations might tenaciously hold on to the language, whereas “objectively” needed, “serious” words are rejected for no apparent reason. Obviously, a balance must be observed between the expressiveness of the word and its applicability: a new formation should not be too exuberant or fancy, because the natural reaction of a member of a language community is to reject it without much consideration. Here are some excerpts from “Predicting New Words”, in which A. Metcalf elaborates on why a new formation should not be too jocular:

135 of 135 pages


Word-Building Strategies in Modern English: Contamination Decrypted
Moscow State Pedagogical University  (Moscow State Pedagogical University)
lexicology and stylistics
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lexicology, stylistics, contamination blends, word-building
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Natalie Lavrova (Author), 2010, Word-Building Strategies in Modern English: Contamination Decrypted , Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/142316


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