the blendoid

Clai Rice cxr1086 at LOUISIANA.EDU
Thu Jan 13 17:39:51 UTC 2005

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Arnold M. Zwicky [mailto:zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU]
> Sent: Wednesday, January 12, 2005 5:01 PM
> Subject: the blendoid
> uttered by our own Grant Barrett, 1/7/05, at the first WOTY discussion
> in Oakland:
>    ... put your balls on the table
> this is clearly based on "put one's cards on the table" 'be open,
> candid', but with an element of bravery and/or audacity
> associated with
> "balls" as in "have the balls to".  (of course, actually putting your
> balls on the table would be both open and audacious, not to mention
> risky and probably uncomfortable.)  this is not your usual blend, for
> two reasons: (a) the combining elements are not competing expressions
> for the same or similar meanings, but each contributes meaning to the
> result, which (i surmise, though grant can speak for himself here)
> conveys something like 'have the balls to put one's cards on
> the table'

Though Lewis Caroll's original description of the 'portmanteau' called for
exactly the unusual kind of process: it's what happens when you think two
different things simultaneously so that parts of both are uttered. Whether
the two slightly different processes (maybe 'lexical access poverty' and
'lexical access surplus'?) give rise to different products is an open

> ; and (b) the result is not really a structural amalgam of "put one's
> cards on the table" and "have to balls to", but really just the former
> with "balls" taking the place of "cards".
> the closest thing to this that we've discussed here is, i think,
> "bunker down".  in the words of jerry cohen, on 10/10/03:
> -----
> "Bunker down" is not a blend. It's merely "hunker down" with the
> intrusion of "bunker" (based both on phonetic similarity and the idea
> of hunkering down in a bunker.
> -----
> "bunker down" also might have an eggcornesque/malapropistic tinge to
> it, if those who use it think that "bunker" makes more sense than
> "hunker" (if, for example, they're more familiar with "bunker" than
> "hunker").  such a tinge is entirely missing in "put one's
> balls on the table".
I'd imagine that any attempt to formalize blending would have to see
bunker/hunker as at least a candidate for blending, otherwise you'd have to
assume some kind of blanket prohibition against blending occurring between
any two items that have a difference of a single phoneme. You could call it
"exchange" or "intrusion" if you like, but if the mechanisms are otherwise
the same, then where's the benefit? Of course, if we don't follow Carroll's
process account, but instead categorize blends on form only (why am I
tempted to say 'surface structure'?), then blendoid is fine.

Google gives 229 hits for "your balls on the table", with about half of the
first 30 not referring to billiards and at least some of the billiards
contexts taking clear advantage of the pun ("Put your balls on the table &
give them a good whacking.") 134 hits for "his balls on the table" with
fewer pool but more poker, and at least one positive reference each to Bush,
Kerry, and Chomsky.

> in any case, we have one clear model expression, and then a lexical
> intrusion from another expression that's floating in the air (more
> accurately, in the speaker's mind).  a sort-of-blend, or blendoid.
> arnold (zwicky at

--Clai Rice

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