Monday, 31 October 2011

On snowtober

A correspondent writes from the USA about the news media’s collective decision to settle on Snowtober as their name on Twitter and in headlines for this weekend’s storm. Why, he asks, did this coinage beat the others which had been suggested, such as Snoctober and Octsnowber? Are there any linguistic reasons?

There are always linguistic reasons. We can rule out Octsnowber straight away, on two grounds. First, it is an infixing coinage - something English doesn't do very much. Most blends are combinations of the first part of word A plus the second part of word B, such as brunch, helipad, smog, motel, and so on. Inserting one word inside another is rare - absobloodylutely. Second, the result of the infixation is to produce an unpalatable 4-element consonant cluster /ktsn/.

Snoctober satisfies the blending preference, but loses out on phonological grounds. The long vowel (diphthong, actually) of snow, rhyming with low, has become a short vowel: snoc rhymes with lock, and as a result the immediacy of the semantic connection with snow is lost.

Snowtober does everything right. It blends in the usual way. It keeps the phonological connection with snow in front of our ears and eyes, and it avoids an awkward phonetic sequence of sounds. This had to be the media choice.


Marc Leavitt said...

I agree with your conclusion, with one addition, to explain why "snoctober" - at least to me - is unfortunate. The first allusion that came to mind was "snot," an unsavory word under any conditions, and most certainly not evocative of snow in mid-autumn.

DC said...

Yes, the /sn/ initial consonant cluster has a generally negative sound symbolic property - snide, sneak, snoop, snort, sniff, snout... Snow is one of the few exceptions.

Stan said...

Snowtober sounds like snowed over. I agree: it was the natural choice. My reaction to Snoctober was similar to Marc's: it immediately suggested snot. Then a schoolboy chant about it. (Smock has much more appeal.)

Slight digression: I recently came across absoposilutely in the subtitles of a Korean film. It made me wonder what feature had been translated, since Korean doesn't appear to have infixation. A native speaker who had seen the film thought it was a kids'-slang variant of absolutely that had been translated for "the effect of a rather unexpected use of a childish play on pronunciation".

Jerry Green said...

Such a pity the inclement weather didn't wait another couple of weeks: "SNOWvember" would have been a godsend to media types :-)