You say ‘Super Bowl’, I say ‘Superb Owl’: what is the name for this wordplay?
Obscenities and insults aside, words – or rather, the order of them – can occasionally land you in a spot of bother. And if you’re fortunate/unfortunate (delete as appropriate) to leave your life admin in someone else’s hands (and conscience), the word-based blame may even lie at their door. The team behind Scottish singer and Britain’s Got Talent finalist Susan Boyle, we’re looking at you.
Like Craig David will forever be remembered largely for that Bo Selecta sketch (sorry, Craig!), SuBo could well be immortalised by a set of tweets promoting her new album featuring the hashtag: #susanalbumparty. If you happened to miss the corresponding news item (and the media frenzy it sparked), we ask you to do this: re-read the hashtag and see if you spot anything out of the ordinary. Gasp.
Say what you like, though, those three words were responsible for what was the best (albeit, accidental) PR stunt we’ve seen since Cadbury flung open its doors to its Crème Egg Café. Or Doritos got the world worked up about crisps for ladies’ delicate fingers. If that wasn’t a PR exercise, it certainly should have been.
So, what is the official name for splitting words and phrases in different places, ensuring the letters are in the exact same order, to get a different meaning?
Well, there doesn’t actually seem to be one… yet. This specific phenomenon is distinct from other humorous linguistic variations such as the crash blossom, the spoonerism, the malapropism, and even the mondegreen. Perhaps, as this language blunder becomes increasingly common in the era of URLs and hashtags, there’s scope for a bit of creative coining?
As we saw with ‘phub’ in 2016, sometimes (read: very, very rarely) a newly coined word for an existing concept catches on and sees enough sustained and organic usage to merit an entry page in one of Oxford’s dictionaries. In fact, Oxford Dictionaries’ lexicographers are currently tracking use of ‘levidrome’, a word that was coined by a young Canadian boy last year after realising there is no name for words that form differently when read forwards and backwards (unlike a palindrome).
So, what to call it? One Oxford Dictionaries colleague with a keen eye for this accidental wordplay wizardry suggested ‘Superb Owls’ (after an online mix-up with the US sporting event of the year, Super Bowl – geddit?), which is definitely going on my list. What do you reckon? Share your ideas in the comments section below!
To get you thinking, embrace your schoolboy humour and take a look at one of my favourite ‘Superb Owl’ examples. Behold:
Like Barnsley-based ‘Penistone’ (pronounced PEN-iss-tən, folks!), the website Pen Island has probably (hopefully) caused a few sniggers. And why not? All PR is good PR, eh? PenIsland.net, as its creators intended, is in fact home to customized stationery. Not male genitalia. Thank goodness for that.