Weekly Word Watch: Bigfoot erotica, cuckooing, and sharknapping
Word-wise, it was a real zoo this week. No, we mean it: the news uncaged some veritable verbal beasts, from manly-man monsters and cuckoo crimes to swaddled sharks and dog days. Let’s see if we can’t tame some of these wild words here.
Sometimes on the Weekly Word Watch, we’re struck by terms simply because… they exist. The rare word pair, Bigfoot erotica, was sighted this week after Leslie Cockburn, a Virginia Democrat running for Congress, accused her opponent Denver Riggleman of being a ‘devotee of Bigfoot erotica’:
My opponent Denver Riggleman, running mate of Corey Stewart, was caught on camera campaigning with a white supremacist. Now he has been exposed as a devotee of Bigfoot erotica. This is not what we need on Capitol Hill. pic.twitter.com/0eBvxFd6sG
— Leslie Cockburn (@LeslieCockburn) July 29, 2018
While Riggleman did co-write a book on Bigfoot hunters in 2006, he insists his ties to Bigfoot erotica are just a joke friends played on him. Bigfoot erotica, nevertheless, is a very real subgenre of monster erotica, which portrays sex between humans and mythical creatures, cryptids, and even dinosaurs. The term – and content – rose to some prominence in the 2010s with controversies over depictions of sexual violence in self-published works.
The Oxford English Dictionary first attests Bigfoot as the name for the much-hoaxed hirsute humanoid said to stalk the woods of the Pacific Northwest in 1958, though earlier instances in the 19th century described grizzly bears — and people with big feet. Foot fetishes: the original Bigfoot erotica?
The Guardian brought an alarming trend, and colorful metaphor, back into the spotlight this week when it reported on the latest incidents of a criminal practice called cuckooing. In the UK, cuckooing is when a gang befriends vulnerable people, often the elderly living in rural places, so they can stash illegal weapons and sell drugs in their homes.
The slang is based on the cuckoo bird, known to trick other birds into raising their young by laying their eggs in their nests (brood parasitism). Slang lexicographer Jonathon Green records the term as early as May 2010, and The Observer covered the phenomenon later that same year. The gangs themselves can be referred to as cuckoos and their victims described as getting cuckooed.
Cuckooing isn’t the only lexical legacy of the evasive avian. Since at least the mid-1200s, cuckold, borrowed from a French term, has derided the husband of an unfaithful wife, apparently on the analogy of the female bird’s nesting ‘infidelity’. In the 2010s, cuckold was shortened online to cuck, derogatory slang employed by the alt-right for a supposedly subservient man, too-moderate conservative, or political liberal. That might strike some as cuckoo, slang for ‘crazy’ since the 19th-century and for ‘a fool’ since the 16th-century.
If the internet has taught us anything, it’s that we love animals and we love portmanteaux. That’s why it’s hard to resist calling a recently confirmed hybrid of a melon-headed whale and rough-toothed dolphin a wholphin, or a blend of whale and dolphin.
Robin Baird, a scientist who helped confirm a 2017 photograph of the animal as a hybrid species, urged: ‘Calling it something like a wholphin doesn’t make any sense’. That’s because the melon-headed whale is a misnomer. It’s technically in the dolphin family, uncommon as the cross-species may be.
Fine, then. We’ll just go and marvel at the liger, the offspring of a lion and tigress, and tigon (tiger and lioness, attested all the way back in 1927) as well as the zedonk, zetland, zonkey, zorse, and zebrule (1899!), which are zebra hybrids with other equines.
Wholphin, for its part, goes back to at least the 1980s in reference to crosses between an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin and a false killer whale born in Tokyo SeaWorld and at Hawaii’s Sea Life Park. The false killer whale, though, is also a kind of dolphin. Who knew sighting a proper wholphin would be rarer than Bigfoot erotica?
Elsewhere in bizarre news, criminal activity, marine life, and blend words, three people are facing charges after they smuggled a three-foot-long horn shark, named Miss Helen, out of a Texas aquarium last weekend… in a baby carriage. Yes, they kidnapped a shark, compelling many in the media to label the incident a sharknapping.
(Miss Helen has been safely returned, we’re happy to report.)
Sharknap is blend of shark and –nap, a combining form based on kidnap (a 17th-century word first recorded for stealing children of color to make them servants in colonial America) and meaning ‘stealing something for reward, ransom, or a prank’. The nonce word keeps good company — and older company than you may think. Dognap is attested as early as 1898 and carnap, 1937, which the OED notes is now mainly a Philippine English term for carjack. Other –nap formations that have sneaked into the OED include art-, (teddy) bear-, cat-, cult-, and horsenapping.
Libfix (liberated affix) is a more established term for the linguistic process of re-blending a word element like –nap, but it is very much like stealing a part of one word to use it for other purposes. Perhaps we might call it wordnapping?
The unrelenting heatwave oppressing much of Europe may have many of you wanting a good, long nap. Maybe even the very word heatwave drains you. Consider canicule instead. It’s what the French commonly call a heatwave, or vague de chaleur.
— BabarLelephant (@babar_lelephant) August 2, 2018
Canicule refers to the dog days, an expression for the hottest part of the summer and named for its association with the rising of the Dog Star (Sirius or Procyon) by the ancient Romans and Greeks. Indeed, the French canicule is from the Latin canicula, literally a ‘little dog’. English actually occasionally used canicule for a time in the 1700–1800s. And if you’re looking for a fancy adjective form for heatwave, try canicular.
But we think another word will do just as well, though. Hot.