December 02, 2007

Suggestive blending with Satchel and Bucky

This past week in the comic strip "Get Fuzzy," Satchel Pooch and Bucky Katt explored the pleasures and perils of neologization through blending, and they managed to get banned by the Chicago Tribune (and perhaps other newspapers) for their efforts.

First, the strips:

("Get Fuzzy," Nov. 28 - Dec. 1, 2007)

This is a fine demonstration of the output constraints on lexical blending, wherein the creation of new blends that coincide with pre-existing homonyms (especially taboo items) is generally avoided. (Compare similar constraints on syntactic blends analyzed by Elizabeth Coppock.) But this is really all just an elaborate setup for Satchel's aborted blend of shiny + itty-bitty, and Bucky's blend of dog + sick. In the latter case, Bucky's owner Rob interrupts him before he can finish saying sick, making the joke even more oblique. Still, it wasn't oblique enough for the editors of the Chicago Tribune. According to a participant in the rec.arts.comics.strips newsgroup, the Tribune substituted the Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 strips with reruns, declaring that they were "not up to our standards of taste."

The creator of "Get Fuzzy," Darby Conley, has become a master of obliqueness, since even indirect references to obscenity, drugs, or other "adult content" can get the strip banned from newspapers around the country. Most recently, "Get Fuzzy" was censored in September by the Tribune for a strip featuring a double entendre on the phrase "nut crunch." And last January the Washington Post and other papers pulled a series of strips in which Bucky came up with campaign slogans inadvertently referring to marijuana use. Conley obviously enjoys using wordplay to test the boundaries of what is considered acceptable in "family" newspapers, so the blending gambit looks like his latest attempt to toy with the sensibilities of local editors. In Chicago, at least, suggestive blends have been deemed off-limits, a decision I would consider rather Satchel + Bucky.

[Update: Laura Kalin and Tim McKenzie are both quick to point out that the firetruck in the Nov. 30 strip could very well be another veiled joke, alluding to the schoolyard classic, "What word starts with F and ends with U-C-K?" McKenzie adds:

Incidentally, last Wednesday's linguistics column in Wellington's Dominion Post newspaper here in New Zealand (which is written by real linguists) was called "The psychology of spoonerisms", and discussed the fact that, in an experimental situation, at least, people are less likely to accidentally produce spoonerisms from pairs like "hit shed" than from pairs like "hot shirt".

Here's a link to the Dominion Post article.]

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at December 2, 2007 03:33 PM