[Generally it has been coined as] Obamadon

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Mon Dec 17 07:57:44 UTC 2012

On Dec 16, 2012, at 10:52 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM> wrote:

> On Sun, Dec 16, 2012 at 8:30 PM, Jonathan Lighter
> <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com> wrote:
>> "Iguanodon."
> And there should be "obamodon."
> But that would be too much like right. A dubious "honor" is made into
> a trivial annoyance. :-(

Wilson, i don't know why you're so determined to be sour about this coining, but the phenomenon is a matter of choosing between two resolutions of what happens when Obama combines with -odon; the vowel hiatus could in principle be resolved by sacrificing either vowel (the -a of Obama or the -o of -odon).

the older toothy -don words are all -odon, it is true:
labyrinthodon, mylodon, iguanodon, sphenodon, glyptodon, mastodon
but that's because what precedes the -odon was understood to be a STEM with its own existence, independent of whatever vowel might be associated with the stem in its other occurrences. iguan- has iguana as a free-standing word, but it's just iguan- in the family name Iguanidae.  the practice of technical word-coiners was generally to posit a stem without a final vowel, regardless of the etymology.  proper names present a special problem, however, since positing a stem without a final vowel can mask the identity of the proper name.

the coiners of Obamadon chose to be faithful to the proper name.  that seems to me to be a justifiable decision, even if it's not the one that older technical word-coiners would probably have chosen (which in effect ranks the -o of -odon as more significant than the -a of Obama, by extracting a stem Obam- for combination with second elements).  indeed, the identity of the 'tooth' element is entirely clear if -odon loses its -o.

i don't know if there are other cases where the identity of a proper name has been preserved at the cost of a vowel in a combining form, but there probably are some, since the instinct for faithfulness is strong.

in any case, there are two possible resolutions.  one of them has a tradition behind it, but it seems to me that the other is defensible as well, and i see no reason to slam people who have made the second choice.


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