Monday, February 27, 2012

Today's word: Grillstravaganziculuraristiclyishous

But first, a personal note: February is finally over! This has been one of the busiest and most stressful months — and especially this last week — that I've been through in a long time. But I made it through, and I am out the other side and can breathe and write and relax again!

But on to today's word.

I'm a fan of portmanteau words — most of them, anyway* — and I've been seeing them more often lately (or at least it seems) in marketing campaigns. Starbucks has had Frappuccinos for years. Safe Auto has been touting their morenimum (more + minimum) coverage. Pop Tarts recently came out with a wildlicious fruit blend flavor. Toyota every year has a big Toyotathon sale.

And Snickers has for some time been using the whole mess of hungerectomy, peanutopolis, nougatocity, substantialicious, and satisfectellent. I thought Snickers' ridiculous portmanteau words were stretching the artform too far.

But then I stopped in for a quick dinner at Penn Station East Coast Subs last week. When I got home and unwrapped my pizza sub (seriously the best pizza sub anywhere), I saw this staring up at me from the paper:

Portmanteau words have also been called frankenwords, making reference, of course, to Frankenstein. It's an apt description, plus it has the benefit of itself being a portmanteau word. But if webinar, mockumentary, infotainment and their ilk are frankenwords, then grillstravaganziculuraristiclyishous is a heroin-fueled-William-Burroughs-rewrite-of-The-Island-of-Doctor-Moreau-word. It's too much, too big, too forced, and to top it all off, it's mispelled (inasmuch as a nonce word can be misspelled).

Let's take it apart, shall we?

First is grill. This makes sense; at Penn Station Subs, they grill everything right there when you order to make a deeeeelicious hot sub.

Next comes -stravaganz-, from extravaganza. This is not surprising. Creating a portmanteau word that ends with -avaganza is nothing new, and certainly grillstravaganza would have been, if not wonderful, at least acceptable.

Next comes the odd string of letters -iculuraristicly-. The string -iculur- doesn't appear in English very often, perhaps not at all — doesn't return any results for that string. It makes a little more sense that this is a phonetic misspelling of the string -icular-, which could have been pulled from the word particular. However, -icular- appears in a lot of other words that no one wants to associate with a sandwich, e.g., vehicular, perpendicular, and testicular. 

Working backward, -risticly- might be a misspelling of -ristically-, from words like futuristically, characteristically, or uncharacteristically. But it's so often used that, without more context, we can't tell if draws from uncharacteristically, futuristically, ballistically, sadistically, or any of a large number of other words. And again, these possibilities are based on a misspelling.

Right in the middle there, too, we've got -urari-, which calls to mind curari (or curare), which is a natural toxin that is used as a muscle relaxant during surgery. Relaxing while enjoying a nice sandwich sounds like a nice idea, but a sandwich that mimics a narcotics-grade relaxation is a bit much.

The most obvious misspelling, though, comes right at the end: -ishous. This has to be a misspelling of the ever-popular -icious ending extracted from the word delicious, which has given us bootylicious, the aforementioned substantialicious, and Homer Simpson's sacrilicous, referring to a waffle stuck to the ceiling that Homer appeared to be praying to.

So, instead of having a neat nonce word that gives customers some idea of how great Penn Station's subs are, we have the misspelled and mediocre portmanteau word grillstravaganzi...lyishous with a bunch of extra letters randomly chosen from various, nondescriptive suffixes crammed into the middle, leaving the customer (at least this customer) puzzled instead of pleased. I have no idea what Penn Station's marketers are trying to tell me.

Nice try, Penn Station, but maybe you should stick to sandwiches.

Delicious, delicious sandwiches.

* For some insight into how horribly wrong portmanteau words have become, read "Let's Talk about Crapmanteaux," from the Angry Sub-Editor.