Last week at a small petting zoo in Arizona, a geep was born. It is reported that “Butterfly,” the baby geep, is healthy, and the proud parents — the mother a sheep, the father a pygmy goat — are doing fine. By now I am sure TMZ, the celebrity muckraking organization, is on the scene angling for exclusive photos of the newborn and, if the digital tabloid is true to form, perhaps a little barnyard dirt on the parents.
I am assuming that TMZ would show interest because of the baby’s name. No, not “Butterfly” but “geep.” It is one of those mashed together names that tabloids are so fond of like “Brangelina,” “Bennifer,” TomKat or “Kimye.” True, Butterfly is not famous — yet — but offer her a reality show and arrange an affair with some fame-chasing ruminant (one of the Billy Goats Gruff, maybe?) and watch her become a pop culture icon for for at least 15 minutes.
(Which leads me to wonder: If such a Billy Goat Gruff-Geep union were to happen, would the couple be called “Greep” or “Geeff”?)
Turns out, the animal world is filled with cross-species and hybrid critters. Zedonks (zebra-donkey); prizzly or groler bears (grizzly-polar); wolphins (bottle-nosed dolphin-false killer whale); and camas (camel-llama) are just a few of the various blended animals running and swimming around out there. And don’t forget Beefalo (domestic cow-America bison) and the good old farm mule (donkey-horse). Ah, don’t you love nature in all her variety?
The term for putting two names or words together to form a new word carrying both meanings is called a “portmanteau.” It is an English word for a suitcase that opens into two sections. Portmanteau was first used in the word-combining sense by Lewis Carroll in “Through the Looking Glass.” In this book and “Alice in Wonderland” he invented several portmanteau words which became part of the language including “chortle” (chuckle and snort) and “galumph” (gallop and triumph).
Although creating a portmanteau of celebrity names seems to be a recent invention, the practice goes back at least as far the 1950s when Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz became “Desilu.” Still, there is no denying that the portmanteau has become such a common shorthand in our celebrity-obsessed 21st century culture it is no longer an original and clever way to refer to two famous people but has come to be an expected part of the ever-present and ubiquitous star-making machine.
It is not just celebrity names that are mashed together in our modern world. In Indianapolis, for example, one doesn’t head to South Broad Ripple for dinner but to SoBro, perhaps for some TexMex. Instead of traveling we take staycations, but if we do leave the house for a getaway one option would be to go glamping (glamor-camping). Then again, we might just go to a movie and watch the latest bromance which probably stars one half of a celebrity portmanteau relationship you can keep up with on TMZ.
Although Becky and I are not exactly cutting edge when it comes to living a modern lifestyle (we still watch TV using “rabbit ears.”), I have been entertaining the notion of the two of us becoming a portmanteau couple. I think “NorBeck” works better than “BeckNor” if for no other reason than the second one sounds more like a last name. Same with “Beckman” while “Norkey” sounds like “Dorky” which is not the effect I am after. I guess I’d better think about this for a while longer.
For now though, I’ll just chillax in front of the TV. If I adjust the rabbit ears, I might be able to catch an episode of “I Love Lucy.”
Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.