"troll" and other words with two mommies?

Geoffrey Nunberg nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU
Sat Oct 5 00:32:47 UTC 2013


I've been thinking about 'troll' (noun and verb) in its Internet (and now, wider) use. It seems to me a good instance of what I think of as a word with two mommies, which is to say that both of the etyma that it evokes, the evil creature who lives under bridges and the fishing activity, play a role in constraining it to what was and is probably still its central use, roughly, a posting reprehensiblly aimed purely at inciting another produce and angry reaction for the sheer pleasure of getting someone worked up That may not have been the case when it was first used in BBS for a rather more benign form of teasing but the pejorative associations are inseparable now. So to ask whether it's derived from A or B is to misunderstand the phenomenon. (True, 'troll' is used a lot more widely now; to some it can refer to just about any abusive posting or provocative online activity, usually anonymous, and whether or not the purpose is to specifically engender 'lulz' fom getting a rise o!
 ut of someone, but that's another story.)

How many other words of this sort are there, either deliberately coined or happenstance? I think of 'baladeur', the French equivalent proposed -- and at one point frequently used, I believe, in both France and Qu├ębec-- for a Walkman, which was meant to evoke both 'ballade' and 'balader' "go for a drive/walk, stroll." I know I've come up with others over the years but I'm drawing a blank right now. I mean words that have two (or more?) distinct etyma simultaneously present to speakers, each of which actively influences its meaning.

There are some related phenomena that should probably be put in a slightly different class. A considerable number of political terms batten on the resonance between two related but disinct senses. "Values" for example evokes the sense of the word to mean 'morals' (as in "She has no ___") and mores ("Our ___ are different" -- cf Nathan Lane's line from the movie Win a Date with Tad Hamilton, "You have different values. For example... she has them!"). "Entitlement," for many, is used to evoke both the psychological definition of naricissism and the budget set-aside. "Elite" is used to evoke both the "snooty, bon ton" meaning (the one you get in "Elite Bakery") and the C.Wright Mills sense of those with true power and influence in a society. But maybe these are better described as semantic or connotational blends or blurrings than as words with distinct but relevant etyma -- the senses here are clearly related whereas the meanings of 'troll' have nothing independently to do wit!
 h each other.

Other examples?

Geoff

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