Mark Peters, the genius behind the blog Wordlustitude in addition to being a Contributing Editor for Verbatim: The Language Quarterly, and a language columnist for Babble, is our guest blogger this week. Check out his past OUPblog posts here. In the post below Peters ponders dog names.
I think the breed of my dog gives him a bad name: People make a definite who-cut-the-cheese-face when they hear rat terrier.
Maybe it sounds too much like rat terror, two legitimately heebie-jeebies-provoking words. Or perhaps it reminds folks of rat bastard, ratfink, and rat-f-word-er. Some concerned citizens may even believe my little dog really, truly is the world’s first half-rat, half-pooch, all-unholy hellbeast in existence.
But at least he’s not a rat-poo. If Monkey (yes, that’s his name) were the joy-bundle produced by a poodle and a rat terrier, rat-poo is just one of the unappetizing things he might be called. Word blending is a full-time sport in the world of dog breeding, where words are grafted together as quickly and haphazardly as unlike dogs.
Any two breeds might spawn a blend. Some recent designer breeds, as they are known, include Cavachon (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Bichon Frise), beagador (beagle and Labrador retriever), Jackabee (Jack Russell terrier and beagle), Maltipom (Maltese and Pomeranian), and Yorktese (Yorkshire terrier and Maltese). Most go by more than one blend: the Yorktese is also called Malkie or Morkie . By the way, I stand behind the capitalization in this paragraph with semi-certainty, but there’s hardly any caps consistency in the bajillions of words written about dogs. If random-ish use of the big and little letters burns your toast to a five-alarm crisp, you should stop reading now and lie down somewhere soft instead.
Poodle crosses—known and spelled as poo Xs—seem to be the mainstay of the genre. The beginning of the trend may have been cockapoo, which is modeled on cockatoo and first found in 1960, in an OED citation that mentions some less successful synonyms for this cocker spaniel mix: cockerpoo and poocock. (Can’t imagine why that last one didn’t catch on). Peekapoo dates from 1968 and refers to a mix of a poodle and a Pekinese, with the spelling reflecting the influence of peekaboo. Other words of this type include bichonpoo, jackapoo, maltipoo, pugapoo, and yorkiepoo. Their success probably has something to do with poo’s propensity for churning out high-sugar-content words such as kissy-poo and cutesy-poo since at least 1932. That reminds me of a girlfriend I used to call poo-poo. Um, I didn’t really do that. Moving on now…
There’s a whole -oodle wing of the poo X estate—including labradoodle, golden doodle, schnoodle, and scoodle, which breed a Labrador retriever, a golden retriever, a schnauzer and a Scottish terrier with a poodle—but there’s even more fun to be had with poo. I’ve seen the cockamamie word cockapoopoopoo coined in honor of a dog that’s three parts poodle and one part cocker spaniel. On a message board, poothusiasts debate whether poopoopoocock or poocockapoopoo would be a more fitting name. A 1979 Among the New Words column from the journal American Speech turned up cockapopso (cockapoo/Lhasa apso mix) being used back in 1971 in TV Guide. And in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, after observing that Jed the shih-tzu and Bella the cockapoo would make beautiful puppies if they weren’t residents of West Neuterstan, one of my fellow dog owners guessed that this never-to-be offspring would carry the title of cocka-shih-poo, a name triply appealing to the less mature minds of our time. Not surprisingly, cocka-shih-poo has been coined by others, along with something-or-other-poo and Australian schnauzer-doodle-whatever-poo.
On my dictionary of nonce words, Wordlustitude, I’ve mined a Chihuahua-centric blend trend that makes your humble guest blogger giggle like a guest schoolgirl: beaglehuahua, poodlehuahua, rathuahua, and wienerhuahua are all real words found in secluded kennels of the Internet. Because I’m not the only citizen who finds -huahua to be a highly amusing suffix, I’ve even spotted an example of chimphuahua, a beast I pray will remain a fanciful furball in the dark imaginations of scientists and humorists.
Dog people may have perfected word-blending but they sure didn’t invent it. Blending is a common word-making strategy that gave us smog, triathlete, beefcake, middlebrow, and popsicle. But some subjects are more blend-friendly than others, and if all this blending reminds you of anything, it may bring to mind an area of equally questionable conjugality: celebrity couple nicknames. Brangelina and Bennifer are made by the same process as labradoodle and puggle, and TomKat (Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes) is an awful lot like minpin (miniature pinscher).
Word-blending mania is also a staple of shippers—single-minded fans who obsessively support an actual or potential coupling on a TV show. Rabid Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans created dozens of blends, like Spuffy (Spike and Buffy) and Bangel (Buffy and Angel) in honor of the two major vampire-boinking romances of the Buffster’s career, and Buffyheads didn’t stop there: they made up name-splices for every two characters with pulses and names. More recently, fans of other cult shows like Lost play the same game. Lost fans who think Jack and Kate are non-barf-worthy support Jate; if they prefer Sawyer and Kate, Skate is the term. If they just hate Kate, as many fans do, Khate is in their hearts, while fans who think Jack has a savior complex larger than a Midwestern state call the pompous doctor Jackus.
But I doubt the combined armies of Jackus, Jesus, and Scooby-doo could save us from a future of infinite breed blend names. Since teacup and mini dogs are breeding like microscopic rabbits, perhaps the nanohuahua is inevitable. I’ll make room in the hamster cage.